Marijuana: What’s the Right Schedule?
The Controlled Substances Act instated in 1970 is a piece of drug regulation legislation we still use today. This act organizes almost any prescription or illegal drug into categories. The categories are defined in the legislation in the following terms:
“A controlled substance is placed in its respective schedule based on whether it has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and its relative abuse potential and likelihood of causing dependence“ (Controlled Substance Schedules).
Marijuana is a schedule one drug. A schedule one drug is described as
“hav[ing] a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.”
Schedule one drugs may not be prescribed for any medical purposes. Examples of other schedule one drugs are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), peyote, and ecstasy (Controlled Substance Schedules).
The National Institute on Drug Abuse posted on their website, drugabuse.gov,
“heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and—particularly in users who inject the drug—infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. … Chronic use of heroin leads to physical dependence, a state in which the body has adapted to the presence of the drug. If a dependent user reduces or stops use of the drug abruptly, he or she may experience severe symptoms of withdrawal.”
Heroin obviously fulfills the high potential for abuse and lack of accepted safety need to fit into this category. And though it’s accepted in the UK, in the United States, there is no accepted medical use for heroin (InfoFacts: Heroin).
(Click for sources)
So, how is marijuana in a schedule with a drug like heroin? When the CSA was organizing this legislation, Congress wrote a letter to Roger Egeberg from the Department of Health Education asking the department’s opinion on where marijuana should be placed in the drug categories. Egeberg replied that marijuana should be put into schedule one until the studies they are conducting were finished. The studies mentioned finished in 1972 and recommended marijuana be removed from any scheduling and be decriminalized (Historical Timeline- History of Marijuana as Medicine – 2900 BC to Present). But, in 1971, Nixon stated even if the studies recommended he decriminalize marijuana, he still wouldn’t (Nixon). Nixon was very against marijuana. Another problem with being in schedule one is, as the legislation states, “[being in schedule one] limits authorized activities” (Controlled Substances Act TITLE 21 ). Therefore, because marijuana is in schedule one, it is harder to get permission to research. If marijuana was taken out of schedule one, it could be researched, which would be beneficial.
Marijuana absolutely doesn’t fit in the category. Schedule one drugs have a high potential for abuse. This is confusing because the main ingredient in marijuana, THC has been sold in a pill form called Marinol in America for more than 20 years. This drug is in schedule three (Chapkis). Marinol is more psychoactive than marijuana, which many believe, is the reason marijuana is labeled with a high potential for abuse. The problem with Marinol is it lacks some of the benefits that marijuana has. Also, Marinol is more expensive which is a big disadvantage to their biggest clients, cancer patients, since they have so many other medical bills to worry about (Armentano).
Schedule one drugs are likely to cause dependence. One cannabis user who has chronic pain due to his broken back explains this:
“I’m careful not to ever abuse my prescription drugs—in fact, that is part of the reason to use marijuana, to cut the need for those pain relievers that are very addictive. With the heavier strains of marijuana, I can take half [a prescription pill]. That’s all I’ll need.”
Marijuana not only doesn’t cause dependence, it helps users be less dependent on other prescribed medications (Chapkis).
Schedule one drugs have no accepted medical use in the United States. While I cannot argue there is an accepted medical use, I can argue there should be an accepted medical use. Studies show marijuana may help protect the brain in MS and Parkinson’s patients. Also, it may have anti-cancer properties to help fight brain and breast cancer. Marijuana produces a psychedelic effect that could only help patients suffering from extreme pain that is inevitable with a condition like cancer or MS. Though this may not make their pain go away, it does give them the strength to rise above it and get onto their days (Chapkis).
Marijuana’s medical disadvantages are greatly reduced when used with a vaporizer. Vaporizing eliminates the risks associated with smoking. Vaporizers boil the herb and produce a vapor that the user then breathes in (Marijuanavaporizer.com) The risks associated with smoking are not prevalent when inhaling vapors because the chemicals are heated to a temperature that produces the vapor but does not produce the harmful chemicals that are affiliated with smoking (Armentano). Vaporizers are cheaper which again, is a huge benefit for patients that have medical bills to worry about as well (Marijuanavaporizer.com).
Schedules 2-5 can be prescribed. Each schedule has different levels of potential for abuse. Schedule two drugs, for example morphine, have the highest potential that is still prescribed; while schedule five drugs, for example Lunesta, have the lowest (Controlled Substance Schedules).
Marijuana should be moved to a lesser schedule. I think it should be in schedule 3 with Marinol. Being in schedule three would open marijuana up for more research. It will help people forget the problems brought onto them by their ailments. Marijuana has a medical benefit and is not likely to cause dependence or abuse.
Drugs were decriminalized in Portugal. It was very beneficial to the country. 10 percent of Portuguese people over 15 have used marijuana in their lives. This is the lowest percent in Europe and staggeringly low compared to America’s 39 percent of people over twelve. Mark Kleiman, author of When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment says,
“I think we can learn that we should stop being reflexively opposed when someone else [decriminalizes] and should take seriously the possibility that anti-user enforcement isn’t having much influence on our drug consumption” (Szalavitz).
Armentano, Paul. “Marinol Versus Natural Cannabis Pros, Cons, and Options for Patients.” 11 August 2005. NORML Working to Reform Marijuana Laws. 19 April 2012.
Chapkis, Wendy. “Cannabis, Conciousness, and Healing.” Contempory Justice Review December 2007: 443-460.
“Controlled Substance Schedules.” 1970. U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration Office of Diversion Control. 19 April 2012.
“Controlled Substances Act TITLE 21.” 11 June 2009. FDA US Food and Drug Administration. 12 April 2012
“Historical Timeline- History of Marijuana as Medicine – 2900 BC to Present.” 8 March 2012. Procon.org. 12 April 2012
“InfoFacts: Heroin.” March 2010. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 19 April 2012
Marijuanavaporizer.com 19 April 2012.
Szalavitz, Maia. “Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work?” Time Science 26 April 2009.
The President’s News Conference. Perf. Richard Nixon. 1 May 1971.