Like most Americans who follow the debate over marijuana legalization in this country, I was disappointed that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration this week once again determined that marijuana has no medical use and left it in Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Disappointed, but not surprised.
NORML first petitioned the DEA to reschedule marijuana to a lower schedule back in 1973, and we have been involved in two subsequent attempts to accomplish the same result, without success. The DEA is a law enforcement agency. So they will continue to oppose any steps to loosen controls over marijuana until Congress forces them to change.
A Brief History of Rescheduling Attempts.
The initial petition NORML filed to reschedule marijuana in 1973 ended up being an endurance test. The agency refused to even acknowledge our petition or respond to it until we went to the court of appeals and forced them to respond. And this strategy of ignore and delay continued at every step, dragging the process out for 15 years until 1988, when DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young, following days of testimony, finally ruled in our favor.
The ruling concluded that “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”
Judge Young continued: “It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.”
However, the DEA Administrator simply ignored the decision of his own hearing examiner and rejected our petition, claiming the hearing examiner had relied on anecdotal evidence. NORML again appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals, but the court allowed the Administrator’s decision to stand, saying he had acted within his discretion.
And twice in the intervening decades NORML has been a party to subsequent attempts to require the DEA to reschedule marijuana; and both times, as they did in this most recent case, the DEA continued to insist that marijuana has no medical usefulness and should remain on Schedule I, along with heroin.
So I hope readers will understand when I say, “Enough is enough! Time to ignore the DEA altogether and focus our efforts on Congress.”
How Marijuana Ended Up on Schedule I in the First Place.
When the federal Controlled Substances Act was being considered by Congress in 1970 — after the prior federal anti-marijuana act had been held unconstitutional — various members of Congress debated the question of where to place marijuana under the new act. A separate provision of that new law established The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (aka the Marijuana Commission), which was charged with the responsibility of determining the appropriate policy regarding marijuana and reporting back to Congress. A compromise was reached to temporarily place marijuana in Schedule I until the commission came back with their report.
When the commission came back with its marijuana report in 1972, they recommended that minor marijuana offenses be decriminalized, which would have made it available (again) as a medicine. (Marijuana was on the U.S. Pharmacopeia from the mid-1850s until 1937, and it was available by prescription and widely prescribed for several conditions.)
However, those recommendations were not accepted by then-Presdient Nixon or Congress, and marijuana was left in Schedule I, where it remains today.
In fact, what Congress should really do, and what NORML has been arguing for some time, is to totally de-schedule marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and treat it as we do alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal interference.
Bills Pending In Congress.
There are currently several bills pending in Congress that, if adopted, would resolve this matter. HR 1774, the Compassionate Access Act, introduced by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Rep. Dana Rorhabacher (R-Calif.), would require that marijuana be rescheduled and would prohibit federal officials from interfering in state-compliant activities specific to the physician-authorized use or distribution of medical cannabis.
And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently introduced S.2237, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, that would de-schedule cannabis from the CSA and treat it like alcohol and tobacco.
Of course, neither of these bills have been scheduled for a hearing or given a vote — even in committee. But those conditions may change following the upcoming election in November, and we may well have the opportunity to move a rescheduling proposal forward in the next Congress.
So instead of trying to convince the DEA that they should act responsibly and compassionately and lower marijuana to a more appropriate schedule under federal law, or remove it entirely, it is now time to put our efforts behind a push to convince the next Congress to solve this problem directly.
This column originally appeared on ATTN.com.