Part of me thinks that the Obama administration could reschedule Marijuana as something less than a Schedule I drug if they wanted to, and perhaps they don't want to during an election season. That's the cynic in me. On the other hand, the correct thing to do is to staff the Drug Enforcement Agency and Food and Drug Administration with professional doctors and scientists and let them make a determination without political interference. At least on the record, that's what the administration has done. And the result is that marijuana will remain a Schedule I drug just like heroin and LSD.
The Obama administration has denied a bid by two Democratic governors to reconsider how it treats marijuana under federal drug control laws, keeping the drug for now, at least, in the most restrictive category for U.S. law enforcement purposes.
Drug Enforcement Administration chief Chuck Rosenberg says the decision is rooted in science. Rosenberg gave "enormous weight" to conclusions by the Food and Drug Administration that marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," and by some measures, it remains highly vulnerable to Abuse as the most commonly used illicit drug across the nation.
"This decision isn't based on danger. This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine," he said, "and it's not."
This response seems almost impertinent because one of the main concerns about marijuana being scheduled along with highly addictive and dangerous drugs is that it has legal consequences under the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (Act) of 1970. But it's true that technically the statute requires this scheduling if a drug "has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use." Drugs given the Schedule II designation "have a high potential for abuse but do have an accepted medical use."
The administration can and in this case has made the argument that there is no accepted medical use for marijuana. I'm not in a better position to judge that than the doctors and scientists. I think there are probably chemical components of marijuana that have medical uses, but they can perhaps be distilled and administered in a more targeted way than simply handing people a spliff and a lighter.
The potential for abuse element of this is a term of art. Obviously, we all know or have known potheads who abuse marijuana to their own detriment. But, to put that kind of abuse on a par with the addictive behaviors of alcoholics and cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin abusers is a total failure of the ability to discern differences in kind and degree.
If I have a problem with the way the DEA and FDA have interpreted the statute, it's definitely in this "potential for abuse" area. I think they have some leeway to move marijuana off Schedule I based on the fact that it doesn't create the kind of havoc we see from these other drugs.
Yet, I can see how they would disagree and argue that potential for abuse is potential for abuse, and if Congress wants them to make that kind of distinction then they should amend the law.
Maybe Clinton will put some pressure on for a reconsideration, but it looks like we'll have to wait for Congress to make the change here so we can stop treating marijuana as one of the most dangerous controlled substances in existence.
We're already at the point that the Justice Department doesn't want to continue to treat marijuana as prosecutable drug, so it would be nice if we could get the law to reflect that somehow rather than perpetuating this situation where a bad law is dealt with by pretending it doesn't exist.
And, of course, they don't always pretend that the law doesn't exist, so we wind up with selective enforcement which is arbitrary and undermines confidence in the rule of law.
I wish the DEA had come down differently, but I can't quibble too much with their decision, as the greater sin is politicized science.
So, how long before Congress gets its act together?