WaPo | Congress and President Obama are under pressure to reschedule marijuana. While rescheduling makes sense, it doesn’t solve the state/federal conflict over marijuana (de-scheduling would be better). But more important, it wouldn’t fix the broken scheduling system. Ideally, marijuana reform should be part of a broader bill rewriting the Controlled Substances Act.
The Controlled Substances Act created a five-category scheduling system for most legal and illegal drugs (although alcohol and tobacco were notably omitted). Depending on what category a drug is in, the drug is either subject to varying degrees of regulation and control (Schedules II through V) — or completely prohibited, otherwise unregulated and left to criminals to manufacture and distribute (Schedule I). The scheduling of various drugs was decided largely by Congress and absent a scientific process — with some strange results.
For instance, while methamphetamine and cocaine are Schedule II drugs, making them available for medical use, marijuana is scheduled alongside PCP and heroin as a Schedule I drug, which prohibits any medical use. Making matters worse, the CSA gives law enforcement — not scientists or health officials — the final say on how new drugs should be scheduled and whether or not old drugs should be rescheduled. Unsurprisingly, law enforcement blocks reform.
Starting in 1972, the Drug Enforcement Administration obstructed a formal request to reschedule marijuana for 16 years. After being forced by the courts to make a decision, the agency held two years of hearings. The DEA chief administrative law judge who held the hearings and considered the issue concluded that marijuana in its natural form is “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man” and should be made available for medical use. Similar hearings on MDMA, a.k.a. ecstasy, concluded that it also has important medical uses. In both cases, the DEA overruled its administrative law judge and kept the drugs in Schedule I, unavailable for medical use.