In 1970 when the Federal Government decided on a plan to rate drugs as to their usefulness or danger they came up with a plan called Scheduling. A drug could be rated Schedule I, the drug has a high potential for abuse, there is no medical use, and there is a lack of safety of use such as heroin, which is made from opium and listed in this category along with LSD and marijuana. Or the drug could be rated Schedule V, the drug has a low potential for abuse, has a accepted medical use, and abuse of the drug may lead to limited physical or psychological dependence. Codeine cough medicines fall into this category.
Marijuana was, without any scientific or medical imput, listed as Schedule I despite the fact that in the 4000 year history of man using marijuana as medicine there is not one recorded death from overdose. Aspirin on the other hand results in over 1000 overdose deaths per year, is not scheduled and is sold over the counter.
The lack of any scientific consideration in the scheduling of marijuana has allowed the supporters of prohibition, particularly the Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA, to stymie any attempt to reschedule marijuana in line with scientific reality. Any petition to reschedule must be signed off on by the DEA. This is the genius of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, CSA, that the scheduling of any drug could not be challenged and if it was the DEA could shut it down before it went anywhere. Indeed an eight year old petition to reschedule marijuana was recently again denied by the DEA, prompting the petitioners to sue in Federal court. The last time a judge considered marijuana’s dangers the Administrative Law Judge for the DEA declared marijuana to be ‘the safest therapeutic substance known to man’, but even that ruling was not enough in 1988 to allow the rescheduling petition to go forward. The DEA got an appeals court to nullify the ruling. This time the case is a full blown lawsuit and will rely on scientific evidence and testimony and can’t be quashed by the DEA.
A member of the coalition to reschedule and patient plaintiff in the case opined that the case for rescheduling marijuana has been going on since the seventies and the DEA is certainly expected to appeal. The case is being heard in the Federal Appeals Court for the DC district. Other than an appeal to the Supreme Court it is not certain what the DEA’s next move will be. The gold standard double blind studies of Dr. Igor Grant are being used as evidence and the Government’s position that marijuana is dangerous and has no medical value is on very shaky ground. A recent study to determine whether the Government’s case would stand up in court found the Government’s case untenable.
How a ruling against the Government will turn out is anybody’s guess but the court could recommend marijuana be rescheduled to Schedule IV or V which is more in line with the science. Any ruling allowing for less than schedule I would certainly blow the lid off the medical marijuana question. The court will start taking testimony in October and it’s unlikely, but we could have a ruling before the year is out. Heaven knows, anything goes!