In a memo to lawmakers today the DEA considers rescheduling cannabis by July of this year. The memo goes on to say that the agency hopes to make its decision “in the first half of 2016.”
If the DEA considers rescheduling cannabis it could dramatically change how law enforcement agencies deal with the drug.
Marijuana is currently a Schedule I substance. The DEA defines that category as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules.”
Because of this, Schedule I drugs are the most strictly regulated. They also tend to carry the most severe criminal punishments.
Critics of the U.S.’s marijuana laws have long pointed to the need to reschedule cannabis to a different category. Those in favor of this position point to the growing number of scientific studies demonstrating the potential medical benefits of marijuana.
Many have also argued that marijuana is significantly less dangerous than other legal drugs, especially highly addictive prescription painkillers.
Some health experts and lawmakers have said that the nation is currently in a prescription painkiller epidemic.
More than 165,000 people in the U.S. have died from opioid painkiller overdoses. Meanwhile, zero people have died from marijuana overdoses.
In fact, it’s basically impossible to overdose on cannabis. Experts have calculated that a person would need to smoke nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana in 15 minutes to overdose.
On top of everything else, those who think it would be a good idea if the DEA considers rescheduling cannabis have pointed out that marijuana laws disproportionately affect people of color.
The new memo also describes the process researchers must go through to legally obtain marijuana for research purposes.
Currently, the U.S. government runs a cannabis farm housed at the University of Mississippi. According to the memo, the cannabis grown on the farm is used in federally approved marijuana research projects. But only an average of nine researchers per year are granted access to the cannabis produced on the government’s farm.
If the DEA does reschedule cannabis, it could change the landscape of marijuana research as well.
The most recent petition calling for the DEA to consider rescheduling cannabis was started back in 2011 by former state governors Christine Gregoire and Lincoln Chafee.
Since that time, no official changes have been made. But cannabis advocates are hopeful that if the DEA considers rescheduling cannabis to be an important enough priority, it could be the first step toward more open marijuana laws.
(Photo Credit: Cannabis Culture)