The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is considering the ramifications of reclassifying cannabis from a Schedule I classification to Schedule 2. There are five possible classification tiers, with Schedule 1 including drugs claimed to be most severe and have links to substance abuse, addiction, and no medicinal value.
Why does classification matter?
Other drugs within the Schedule 1 tier include heroin, ecstasy, peyote, and LSD. Downgrading cannabis to a Schedule 2 narcotics would place it among the ranks with morphine, cocaine, and methamphetamine. While this tier still identifies the drugs as dangerous, reclassifying cannabis would allow for clinical research studies to understand how it interacts with the body (according the science, not politics).
A brief history
If there is one thing marijuana lost over the years, it was its own PR battle. In the 1850s, cannabis was a trendy narcotic for higher-income classes, with hashish houses, or smoke parlors, popping up next to opium dens in crowded cities on the east coast. Similar to bath salts sold today, one didn’t always know what was truly used to make the product. This led to laws requiring labels and declaration of ingredients. But more importantly – it affirmed that there are dangers associated with cannabis, and that legal intervention was necessary.
Things got really crazy under President Nixon, though, and I’m not just referring to Watergate. The Controlled Substance Act was passed in 1970, which gave us the very classification system we are talking about today. It was less driven by science and more about the perceived social behaviors of the lower classes (read: communities of color). In an attempt to control too many people from smoking too much weed, officials classified it as one of the most dangerous types of drugs in the world.
What it all means for cannabis consumption
America spent 150 years trying to rid the nation of cannabis and what it perceived to be health risks associated with the plant. But as we have seen in Colorado, regulated marijuana provides a balanced pathway to safe consumption. The DEA is expected to announce its decision for reclassification this summer, and there are definitely some serious issues at stake for the Cannabis Industry.
Schedule 2 narcotics have a shorter prison sentence than Schedule 1. Theoretically, if someone is arrested by federal authorities for marijuana-related crimes, there would be less prison time and fines associated. No word yet on whether those with prior convictions would see reduced prison time.
Federal researchers are at a standstill, as they would technically have to break the law in order to study marijuana under current classification structuring. This leaves a major loophole in our understanding of short- and long-term public health impacts. Being reactive to public health issues instead of proactive is one of the most expensive policy approaches a government can take.
The biggest challenge to the cannabis industry involves banks. Those that are federally insured cannot work with businesses that profit from banned substances. While reclassification would still identify cannabis as federally illegal, it would contribute positively to how we culturally perceive the plant. This might then influence legislation that allows banks to work with the cannabis industry directly.
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