Cannabis is regulated by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) that classifies it as a Schedule I substance and restricts it to research purposes that must be approved by almost a half dozen different federal agencies. Placement at this level is based on the following findings: 1) The drug/substance has a high potential for abuse, 2) the drug has no currently accepted medical use, and 3) there is an overall lack of accepted safety for the use of the substance under medical supervision.
The CSA establishes a process by which the scheduling of a substance can be reconsidered. This rescheduling process requires the filing of a detailed report of scientific evidence, and the CSA specifies which aspects of the scientific record are relevant to the rescheduling process. This petition is our effort to show support for the federal level reclassification of cannabis into one of the four lower less restrictive schedule categories thus allowing for both increased access for scientific researchers and the use of cannabis in a medical setting.
There are various pathways to the rescheduling of cannabis. The President has the authority to do so unilaterally using the power of the Executive Branch. But the most likely path forward would be for Congress to reschedule cannabis either through new legislation specific to it or through tailored amendments to the Controlled Substances Act.
As of right now, state medical and recreational legalization programs have no impact on federal drug control laws. Although many states have chosen to create individualized medical cannabis programs, with four states legalizing full recreational use, in the end these programs violate federal law. The Obama administration has chosen to prioritize other aspects of enforcement, and has largely turned a blind eye to these states’ ‘experiments’, just so long as the state systems meet basic guidelines.
State policies supporting the medical value of cannabis have no bearing on the status of cannabis within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In 2006, the FDA reaffirmed that they find “no sound scientific studies supported medical use of cannabis for treatment in the United States,” in response to a 2002 petition to reclassify cannabis as Schedule II. In July of 2011, the DEA formally denied this petition, repeating that cannabis has no accepted medical use and would therefore remain a Schedule I drug, sharing space on that list with heroin, LSD, Ecstasy and peyote. In 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for DC upheld that determination.
The unfortunate part of the rescheduling debate is that keeping cannabis as a schedule I drug severely restricts the capacity for scientists to study its potential efficacy, while also creating a law enforcement system that penalizes its possession severely. Often the lack of scientific research on medical use is simultaneously offered as evidence for keeping cannabis in schedule I.
Rescheduling cannabis would make it far more accessible and possible to conduct research on the impacts of cannabis, both positive and negative, perhaps in the future leading to the development of robust cannabis-derived medications that would pass the rigorous standards of the FDA. Rescheduling cannabis would not affect the legal status of state-licensed cannabis industries in states with already established programs. These industries will still be criminal enterprises in the eyes of the federal government unless Congress takes legislative action. However rescheduling would remove one of the major financial challenges facing the medical cannabis industry--Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code that prohibits the deduction of business expenses related to "trafficking in controlled substances" for drugs on Schedule I or II. If cannabis were moved to, say, Schedule III, that prohibition would no longer apply and the rigorous pressure on the medical cannabis industry, specifically on the banking end of things, would be significantly decreased.
This petition seeks to encourage Utah's Congressional delegation to follow the lead of the Utah Legislature and Governor Gary Herbert in supporting federal level legislative efforts to reschedule cannabis.
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