U.S. Government’s View on Cannabis
What exactly does the U.S. Government think about marijuana, and is this perspective backed up by science Earlier this year, President Obama announced that he would not make marijuana law reform a priority in 2016. This means that whatever laws and ideas are already in place will most likely stay where they are. And while it’s common knowledge that the federal government continues to outlaw cannabis, the precise reasoning behind that position is much less widely known.
Currently, the federal government classifies cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance. According to the DEA’s website, this category is reserved for “drugs, substances, or chemicals . . . 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 with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”
Along with marijuana, the Schedule I category includes things like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Meanwhile, drugs like cocaine and meth are classified as Schedule II, presumably safer and less dangerous than cannabis.
So how does the federal government support its claims that marijuana is one of the most dangerous substances around?
The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s website links (the Whitehouse has recently taken this down) to a document titled “The Public Health Consequences of Marijuana Legalization.”
This two-page report explains the government’s reasons for outlawing cannabis.
But are these reasons actually backed up by science?
To begin with, it’s important to note that the most recent study cited in this document was published in 2012. And nearly a quarter of the 14 sources cited in the paper are from the early 1990s.
Cannabis research has become significantly more common in recent years as marijuana laws have become less restrictive.
Failing to include results from these more recent studies could compromise the relevancy and legitimacy of the government’s claims.
One of the most important fields of marijuana research currently being pursued has to do with cannabis’s potential medicinal properties.
Toward the end of 2015, the National Institute on Drug Abuse updated its official fact sheet on cannabis. This came as a result of animal studies that suggested cannabis might be an effective way to kill certain types of cancer cells.
Many have pointed out that cannabis’s potential medicinal properties could be reason enough to move it out of its current Schedule I classification.
As outlined in “The Public Health” document, the government’s primary reason for outlawing cannabis is that it “poses significant risks to public health.”
To support this claim it says that “marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory illnesses, and cognitive impairment.”
Many of these statements have been called into question, however, by recent scientific studies.
Dr. Richard Grucza, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, just completed a study that refutes the often-cited claim that marijuana dependence is on the rise.
“About 10 or 15 percent of the people who have used in the last year are using at some sort of problematic level,” he explained.
“What we are finding is that ratio has actually gone down. So the percentage of users that have problems with marijuana has actually decreased over the past 10 years.”
Similarly, researchers have been more vocal in recent years about the health risks associated with smoking cannabis.
As a result, the use of vaporizers and edibles has increased dramatically. These forms of use allow people to access the THC and CBD in cannabis without having to inhale smoke.
In fact, edibles accounted for nearly half of the $5.4 billion in legal marijuana sales last year.
And finally, as researchers have spent more time exploring whether or not cannabis impairs users’ cognitive functions, many new questions have arisen.
Some studies point out that the presumed correlation between marijuana use and what lower IQs might have more to do with other environmental factors such as unstable backgrounds than with cannabis use alone.
A study published earlier this year did, however, identify a possible link between long-time cannabis use and decreasing verbal memory.
And another study, this one published in mid-February, argued that cannabis use does not affect the likelihood of developing psychiatric or mood disorders.
It did find, though, a possible link between marijuana use and addiction to other substances, most often nicotine and alcohol.
Taking all these recent studies as a whole, it seems that the question of whether or not cannabis poses significant risks is not as cut and dry as the government’s document makes it seem.
A great deal of research has been completed since the time the government published the document, and it appears that much more research is still needed before we can reach any certain conclusions.