Is DEA finally rescheduling marijuana?

Posted on April 22,2016

It’s been over 45 years in the making but cannabis might soon be headed off the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Schedule I listing. According to a letter the agency recently sent to lawmakers and obtained by the Washington Post, the DEA says it plans to release a decision on rescheduling marijuana “in the first half of 2016.”

Although this news is promising, American’s shouldn’t hold their collective breath quite yet. Similar promises were made by the DEA in recent years. In 2011 a petition for the DEA to reschedule cannabis was denied and since then, actavists have pushed the Administration to reconsider.

According to the Denver Post, DEA spokesman Russell Baer said that after a decision to reschedule a drug, “groups that disagree can request an administrative hearing. The DEA would then reconsider its scheduling decision following that hearing and issue a final decision, which could be challenged further in court.”

The real question that many are asking is what rescheduling actually means for cannabis and its legal future. In terms of outright legalization, the short answer is nothing. Removing cannabis from Schedule I would help to validate what 23 states plus the District of Colombia already claim -that cannabis has the potential for medical benefit. As the system currently stands, cannabis is treated like heroin, MDMA, and LSD meaning there is no scientific medical benefit and thus very little (if any) research can be conducted.

As that same Denver Post article points out, “moving marijuana into Schedule II — where it would reside along drugs such as cocaine — would open up research opportunities…. Dropping marijuana even further down into Schedule III — home to drugs such as ketamine — potentially would help marijuana businesses by allowing them to take a tax deduction that sellers trafficking in higher-schedule substances cannot claim.”

Although the likelihood of the DEA taking action by summer, let alone action at all is dubious, supporters of cannabis reform could implore Congress to take action. Yet most Americans are well aware of the lack of action Washington takes these days. Couple that with many of our politicians’ refusal to act in the interests of their constituents, the chances are that it’s going to be up to the DEA to make the change.

But why does the DEA have a sudden interest in potentially rescheduling cannabis anyway? After all, in November DEA Chief Chuck Rosenberg said, “What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal -because it’s not. We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don’t call it medicine -that is a joke.”

There are two reasons why they might (and should) reschedule cannabis. First is the recent admission by former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman. In an interview with Harper’s Magazine, Ehrlichman claims that the war on drugs specifically targeted hippies and minorities. He says:

“You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Words like these are quite glaring but highlight the federal government’s strategy for attacking the fringes of society. And while the DEA’s decision to take a closer look at rescheduling might be a way of rectifying the past (if you can call it that), the more pragmatic rationale may have to do more with the “war on terror” than the war on drugs.

Currently, the FBI is struggling to hire 2,000 cyber-security investigators. And as Vice points out, the problem is due to archaic rules in place that don’t allow for the Bureau to hire anybody who has smoked cannabis within three years. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of potential recruits are cannabis users. And to many of these talented individuals, the thought of giving up cannabis to work for the federal government is a non-starter.

Regardless of the reasons why or why not the DEA will change its stance on cannabis, one thing is for certain: the acceptance of cannabis will continue to rise, with or without them.