Since the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, cannabis has been considered by the federal government to be a Schedule I drug, which is the most dangerous categorization a drug may be given.
This legislation created five schedules with varying degrees of abuse potential and medicinal value. Schedule I, the most extreme schedule, contains drugs that are “defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the DEA website.
Alongside cannabis in this category is heroin, LSD, ecstasy and peyote.
The next category, Schedule II, contains drugs that are considered to have less potential for abuse and more medical value than Schedule I drugs.
“Schedule II has cocaine on it and meth,” said Mike Elliot, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group. “In other words, the federal government thinks that cocaine and meth are safer than marijuana, which is absurd to say the least.”
Many, including Elliot, are frustrated that cannabis’ Schedule I classification states that it has zero medicinal value, despite the fact that patients have reported positive health effects from marijuana use.
“All of these kids with epilepsy that have been coming to Colorado,” Elliot said. “The federal government has to deny that they are getting any benefit from cannabis at all,” Elliot said.
Under this classification system, cannabis is considered more dangerous than methamphetamine. However, criminal penalties are generally much more severe for methamphetamine.
Many advocates have sought to reschedule cannabis, which can be done through Congressional action or through the DEA by means of petition. NORML, a cannabis advocacy group launched the first petition to reschedule cannabis in 1972 and did not receive a decision until 1988. It and all other petitions thus far have been rejected.
Earlier this year, the DEA asked the FDA to perform another analysis, which is currently ongoing. The FDA has not determined when the review will conclude, according to Jeff Ventura, FDA Press Officer. The DEA will consider the results of that analysis, conduct it’s own assessment and then make a final scheduling proposal.
Elliot does not anticipate a rescheduling will result from this recent review for many reasons.
“The people who have this prohibition are very well entrenched and have power and are not going to go out without a fight,” Elliot said.