Over 23 states in the US plus the District of Columbia have enacted laws that allow people to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. Two of those states – Colorado and Washington – have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Despite this effort, cannabis is still considered illegal under the federal law.
The federal government regulates drugs through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811), which does not recognize the difference between medical and recreational use of cannabis. These laws are generally applied only against persons who possess, cultivate, or distribute large quantities of cannabis.
Under federal law, cannabis is treated like every other controlled substance, such as cocaine and heroin. Under the CSA, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that it is highly addictive and has no medical value.
However, with the increased vote towards the legalization of marijuana in the different states, the federal government has been pressured to rethink its decision on its illegality. It’s upon this that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in a memo announced to lawmakers its plans to decide by July 2016 whether or not it will reschedule marijuana, according to The Washington Post.
This is potentially great news for the millions of Americans who use medical cannabis products and the hundreds or thousands of new marijuana dispensaries across several states.
Positive results from the rescheduling
DEA rescheduling of marijuana could improve medical research on the drug. According to research, cannabis treats several medical conditions, including seizures, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. Cannabis oil, which is derived from the marijuana bud, is known to have anti-anxiety effects, among other beneficial properties. Current laws and regulations prevent the department of Health and Human services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy from fairly evaluating Schedule I drugs. With no manufacturing and distribution of cannabis oil allowed within Georgia, some patients have been forced to breaking federal laws by acquiring the drug out of state and transporting it back.
Rescheduling would also bring about the necessary change to allow banks to do business with the growing number of marijuana-related businesses. Right now, those businesses are cash-only because it is illegal for them to put their money in banks. Estimates suggest that if legalized, the marijuana industry will hit $6.7 billion in sales this year while expanding to nearly $22 billion by 2020
Conflict between states and federal law
In support of the numerous states that have taken responsibility for the health and welfare of their people, and have implemented medical marijuana laws, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is fighting for states’ ability and right to pass and enforce their own laws, regardless of federal law.
In 2014 and 2015, Congress called a ceasefire in the federal war on medical cannabis. Congress approved a budget amendment that prohibits Justice Department funds from being used to prevent states from implementing medical cannabis laws.
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment doesn’t just prevent direct interference with state implementation; it should also end federal medical cannabis raids, arrests, criminal prosecutions, and civil asset forfeiture lawsuits, as well as providing current medical cannabis prisoners with a way to petition for their release. These restrictions on federal enforcement are part of the 2016 funding bill for the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) budgets and expire at the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2016. Hopefully by then, DEA will have decided to reschedule marijuana given its medical value.
Today, several federal agencies have issued guidelines and other policy memorandums that are legitimate efforts to manage the emerging issues with medical marijuana. In fact, as of 2016, every federal agency except the DEA has stopped ignoring medical cannabis. Several petitions to legalize medical marijuana have been denied with the first in 1972. In 1985, it was a win when pill form of cannabis THC was rescheduled to allow prescription under schedule II then later to schedule III in 1999. From then till now, two petitions have been denied by DEA with the recent in July 2011. Never the less, state lawmakers, local law enforcement and medical cannabis patients are optimistic and anxiously waiting on a decision from the DEA on whether to reschedule marijuana under the federal Controlled Substances Act, a move that could open the door to new research on the drug.