Some people on the other side of the legalization debate criticize the administration for not “rescheduling” marijuana, claiming that it doesn’t fit the criteria for Schedule I (which also includes heroin and LSD). Alas, Congress in its (somewhat limited) wisdom hasn’t created a category for moderately dangerous but medically unapproved drugs. There’s no legitimate doubt that some of the chemicals in cannabis have medical value. But “marijuana” doesn’t name a medicine, if a medicine is a material of known chemical composition that clinical trials have shown, at some specific dosage and route of administration, to be safe and effective in the treatment of some specific ailment. The huge variations from strain to strain, and from one means of administration to another, mean that clinical trials would have to be done on specific cannabis preparations, not on “marijuana” as a general category. And it’s only those specific preparations that would then qualify for “downscheduling.”
Even an arbitrary decision to move the plant itself from Schedule I to Schedule II (or even Schedule III) would have mostly symbolic effects.
Two different plants are already Schedule II even though there is a huge variation from strain to strain. Among the current Schedule II drugs are: coca leaves, opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), raw opium, powdered opium, poppy straw (poppy heads), and poppy straw concentrate.
The government has proved it is willing to legally acknowledge the medicinal value of plants even in their raw form.
Based on current medical science there is no logical or legal justification for why marijuana shouldn’t be moved to at least Schedule II if both coca leaves and poppy straw are already Schedule II.
Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy
Photo by KevinJewell, used under Creative Commons license