The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is planning to change cannabis from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule II drug, August 1, a DEA lawyer has told the Santa Monica Observer.
This would effectively legalize medical marijuana across the U.S., said the unnamed lawyer.
"Whatever the law may be in California, Arizona or Utah or any other State, because of Federal preemption this will have the effect of making THC products legal with a prescription, in all 50 states," the attorney said.
Earlier this spring, the DEA signalled that it might be considering a change.
On April 4, the Drug Enforcement Administration sent a 25-page letter to U.S. Senators saying that the DEA plans to decide whether or not to reschedule marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in the first half of 2016. So the legal landscape for marijuana could change significantly as early as June.
The DEA's letter was in response to Democratic party senator Elizabeth Warren and seven other senators who have called on the federal government to research marijuana's potential medical benefits. Right now, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug in the CSA, which means the federal government officially defines cannabis as a substance that has no medical value and as dangerous as heroin.
What rescheduling means
There are five distinct schedules in the CSA, so the significance of rescheduling hinges on where marijuana is slotted. The DEA could keep it listed with heroin in Schedule I, group it with oxycodone in Schedule II or even drop it to Schedule V with Robitussin AC.
It's probably wishful thinking to hope that the DEA will shift from banning cannabis completely to letting pharmacies sell it over the counter. So let's focus on what the most conservative step toward reform - changing marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II - could do.
"Schedule II changes the situation in a very significant way," John Hudak - deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow in Governance Studies for the Brookings Institution - told Civilized. "Schedule II substances may have medicinal value. They can be used in extremely regulated settings and for medical treatment."
That move would not only make it easier but also more acceptable for researchers to study cannabis. Hudak noted that marijuana's Schedule I status, "creates cultural biases in universities and research institutions. Universities are pretty conservative places in terms of risk-taking. Donors may not be interested in funding a university researching marijuana because it is a harmful drug with no medical value according to the federal drug scheduling."
So this incremental step wouldn't be a game-changer, but it would allow researchers to test marijuana and perhaps make some breakthroughs regarding its potential health benefits down the road.