Blunt Talk: Scientists Push for Federal Marijuana Rescheduling

The War on Drugs is over. Drugs won.

Case in point: In documents unveiled this week, federal scientists assert that marijuana could hold medicinal value and poses fewer risks than substances like heroin.

Marijuana stands apart from tightly controlled substances, demonstrating lower potential for abuse and showcasing potential medical advantages. As a result, federal scientists are advocating for its removal from the most restrictive category of drugs in the nation.

This groundbreaking recommendation stems from a 250-page scientific review that was disclosed to Matthew Zorn, a Texas lawyer who pursued its release through legal action against Health and Human Services (HHS) officials. The document sheds light on the internal deliberations of federal health officials who are contemplating a significant shift in the classification of marijuana at the federal level.

The DEA’s Classification System

Drugs, substances, and certain chemicals used to make drugs are classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) into five distinct schedules (i.e., categories) depending on the drug’s acceptable medical use and the drug’s abuse or dependency potential.

Schedule I drugs aren’t considered safe by the federal government, even under medical supervision. Heroin, peyote, marijuana, and various psychedelics (e.g. LSD) fall into Schedule I, under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA was passed in 1970 and became a cornerstone in the now-discredited War on Drugs.

It was President Nixon who launched the War on Drugs, as a way to persecute the societal groups he feared and hated, notably anti-Vietnam War activists and others on the left. “Tricky Dick,” as he was widely derided, couldn’t outlaw the political activities of his opponents, but he could outlaw their recreational proclivities and wield law enforcement as a club against them.

Some examples of Schedule II drugs are Vicodin, cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, Dilaudid, Demerol, OxyContin, fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin.

Schedule I drugs are deemed to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse, carrying severe criminal penalties. However, scientists at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as revealed in the documents, suggest reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule III drug.

The federal review found that marijuana “does not produce serious outcomes compared to drugs in Schedules I or II.”

Additionally, the review notes “scientific support” for therapeutic uses of marijuana, including the treatment of anorexia, pain, and chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting.

This scientific assessment prompted the FDA to break from decades of precedent and in August 2023 recommend marijuana’s reclassification to the DEA. The DEA is currently considering this recommendation, with a formal decision expected in the coming months.

Internecine infighting has arisen between career employees at the DEA, known for right-of-center views, and researchers and health officials advocating for reclassification. HHS has communicated its position to the DEA in the past (see letter).

What Would Reclassification Mean for Cannabis?

Advocates for the marijuana industry see a potential rescheduling as a significant step toward legitimizing marijuana businesses.

What the White House can’t accomplish legislatively in Congress right now in terms of drug law normalization, it’s attempting via the bureaucracy. With major bills to decriminalize marijuana stalled in a gridlocked Congress, the enemies of the War on Drugs are turning to the executive branch’s vast apparatus of rules and regs.

President Biden’s call in October 2022 to “expeditiously” re-examine marijuana classification aligns with his pardons for individuals charged with marijuana possession under federal law.

As the debate over marijuana continues, its popularity remains evident, and changes in federal classification could have far-reaching implications for its regulation and use across the United States. When reclassification occurs (and it’s a matter of when, not if), quality pot stocks are likely to soar. Savvy investors are getting ahead of the curve.

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John Persinos is the editorial director of Investing Daily.

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This article previously appeared on Investing Daily.