“What I wouldn’t do is commercialize it, legalize it on the Federal level, and open this up to institutional investors and Big Tobacco. That’s my worry.”
~ Kevin Sabet, Former three-time White House Office of National Drug Control Policy advisor and Founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana
Responding to a directive from President Joe Biden, the Federal Health and Human Services Department has recommended easing restrictions on marijuana by changing its drug classification. If the HHS recommendation is followed, marijuana would be a “Schedule III” drug instead of its current “Schedule I” status.
Pro-cannabis supporters see that possibility as a major victory, because it would be a huge step that would pave the way for expanded legalization. Opponents who don’t want more drugs in their communities are worried about what would come next, for the same reason.
Let’s take a closer look at what to expect if marijuana is rescheduled, why you should care, and what you can do about it.
Schedule I versus Schedule III: What’s the Difference?
The basic idea behind drug scheduling is the more addictive a substance is, the greater its potential for abuse, and the fewer legitimate medical applications, the higher its schedule will be.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Schedule I drugs have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”. Besides marijuana, drugs in this group include ecstasy, peyote, quaaludes, synthetic cannabis, LSD, and heroin, among others.
The DEA classifies Schedule III drugs as having a “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” Drugs in this class include testosterone, anabolic steroids, ketamine, and Tylenol with codeine, among others.
Should Marijuana Be Rescheduled?
To answer that question, we first need to ask the basic questions that affect scheduling about marijuana.
#1 Is Marijuana Addictive?
Despite what most people think, the newest research has concluded that marijuana is EXTREMELY addictive. In fact, according to a meta-analysis of almost 4,000 medical literature abstracts, 47% of regular users will experience symptoms of Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome (CWS) when they try to quit or when the drug is unavailable.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, up to 30% of users develop some degree of Cannabis Use Disorder, which includes problematic abuse, dependence, and addiction.
But even more than that, marijuana primes the brain for other addictions, and the younger the user is, the worse the damage can be. Individuals who initiate use before the age of 18 are up to 7 times more likely to develop a Substance Use Disorder.
As evidence, 54% of people participating in an outpatient treatment program experience CWS, as do 87% of psychiatric units.
Conclusion: YES, marijuana is extremely addictive.
#2 Does Marijuana Have Medicinal Value?
As we have previously covered in depth, the popular notion that marijuana is a safe and effective medicine is not supported by science. In fact, research has shown that for many of the conditions that marijuana supposedly treats, using the drug actually makes things worse:
- Interferes with cancer treatment
- Sickens people with Crohn’s Disease
- Worsens PTSD symptoms and outcomes
- Deepens depression
- Increases anxiety
- Hinders recovery from SUD
- No better than a placebo at relieving pain
- Induces seizures
- Hinders antiviral treatment for HIV/AIDS
- Aggravates cognitive impairment in MS patients
Marijuana is also not “prescribed” like other medications – there is no standard dosage, formulation, frequency, or delivery system. Marijuana fails to meet every benchmark required for recognition as a legitimate medication that is FDA-approved to treat even a single condition, let alone dozens of conditions.
Even in those cases where there might be limited evidence of potential benefits, those results are still obtainable using non-psychoactive derivatives. There is no need to get high.
Perhaps conclusive of all, neither the American Medical Association nor the American Psychiatric Association endorse its use. While the APA says, “No current scientific evidence that marijuana is in any way beneficial for treatment of any psychiatric disorder,” the AMA pointedly calls marijuana a “dangerous drug” and a “public health concern”.
So, despite what Big Cannabis and its lobbyists want you to think, the answer to the question of “Is marijuana a legitimate medicine?” is…not really.
#3 Is Marijuana Dangerous?
This is the easiest question of all to answer because a literal mountain of scientific evidence clearly shows that marijuana use is associated with a host of negative consequences to both physical and mental health.
Conclusion: Because it causes or contributes to so many health problems, and because that list grows longer every day, the dangers of marijuana are alarmingly obvious.
What Happens if Marijuana is Rescheduled?
Supporters of rescheduling – and expanded legalization – are trying to placate opponents by saying that nothing would really change. After all, they say, Schedule III drugs are still controlled substances. It would not mean instant nationwide legalization.
But it would open the door a bit wider, which is the ultimate goal of rescheduling. They don’t care about research, taxes, or any other purported reasons for supporting changing marijuana’s classification.
How do we know this is true?
We know because even if it happens, it simply is not enough for the pro-marijuana movement, and they are the first to say so.
As an example, Kaliko Castille, President of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, says instead of being optimistic about this potential move, it is merely “re-brands Prohibition”. He wants marijuana to be completely removed from the controlled substances list and merely “regulated,” like alcohol and tobacco.
A Dangerous Addictive Drug with Little Actual Medicinal Value
Based solely on the answers to the three questions, it seems clear that there is no basis for rescheduling marijuana. The vast majority of the so-called “benefits” of the drug are a false narrative pushed by special interest groups that stand to profit from expanded legalization.
It’s Happened Before
To know that any step that furthers the pro-marijuana cause is a bad idea, we only have to look at the precedents set by cigarettes and prescription painkillers.
Once upon a time, we were told cigarettes were safe. Big Tobacco companies sponsored biased studies, advertised in medical journals, and paid doctors to endorse their brands and their claims.
“More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette” was an actual advertising campaign. They didn’t tell you that doctors were given free cartons and then asked what brand they smoked.
Here’s the thing – Big Tobacco executives and research scientists knew that smoking causes cancer as far back as the 1940s. They placed profits over principles and withheld the evidence from the public.
It happened again a generation ago.
When opioid painkillers were introduced, they were hailed as safe and effective, had a low potential for abuse, and were non-habit-forming. A single letter supposedly supporting those claims was cited hundreds of times.
Big Pharma companies sent out legions of salespeople to push OxyContin and other pain pills, bombarding doctors with lunches and pitches and trips and pitches and bonuses and pitches and too-good-to-be-true claims and…pitches.
But here’s the thing again – while opioids became a multibillion-dollar industry, Big Pharma executives knew their painkillers were being abused. They knew that people were becoming addicted and dying from overdoses by the tens of thousands.
When the truth finally came out, drug company executives had to plead guilty to “misbranding” their products in federal court.
In both cases, the tobacco and drug companies had to pay enormous fines for misleading and harming the public, but settlements would not bring back the loved ones who died.
We are currently in a distressingly familiar situation with Big Cannabis. The challenge is – have we learned from past tragedies?
What Can You Do?
The ultimate decision on rescheduling marijuana falls to the Drug Enforcement Administration. This isn’t a voting issue that will be on a ballot.
However, the DEA will ask for public comment as part of the review process. This is your opportunity to make your voice heard. Contact the DEA directly, and reach out to your elected officials. We also ask you to write to:
Attorney General Merrick Garland
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
Administrator Anne Milgram
Drug Enforcement Agency
8701 Morrissette Drive
Springfield, VA 22152
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