Today cannabis is accepted as medicine in over two dozen states with qualifying conditions varying from state to state. Before the mid 1900s cannabis had been used medically for hundreds of years to treat a variety of conditions. Federally however, cannabis is listed as a drug with no medicinal benefits. The government made this decision in the 70s when the Controlled Substances Act was created.
In the early 70s at the hand of President Richard Nixon, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNND) and the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) merged to create what we now know as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In a message to Congress, Nixon stated that the government needed to launch a “full-scale attack on the problem of drug abuse in America,” adding that, “the problem has assumed the dimensions of a national emergency”. In one of Nixon’s secret tapes he was heard singling out cannabis saying, “By God, we are going to hit the marijuana thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss.”
In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act was created wherein the five schedules of drug classification were listed. Cannabis along with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy was listed as a Schedule I controlled substance where it currently remains. The government describes drugs in this category as having a high potential for abuse, with no medical use, and that there is a lack of safety for use of the drug even under medical supervision. You can find drugs like methamphetamine, opioids, and cocaine in Schedule II. These drugs are considered less addictive than cannabis.
As stated earlier, cannabis had been used legally as medicine in the United States to treat migraines, asthma, and other ailments, even drug addiction, until the 1940s. Mayor LaGuardia commissioned the New York Academy of Medicine to study marijuana. Among many of their findings, the report found that cannabis use does not lead to addiction nor does it lead to using heroin or cocaine. And later in 1988 the DEA’s Administrative Law Judge Francis L. Young wrote, “In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume. For example, eating 10 raw potatoes can result in a toxic response. By comparison, it is physically impossible to eat enough marijuana to induce death. Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”
The fight to reschedule cannabis has been going on for decades. Two years after the Controlled Substances Act was created NORML petitioned to reschedule cannabis to Schedule II but it wasn’t even given a federal hearing until 1986. This scheduling hinders cannabis advancement tremendously. The DEA justified cannabis’ Schedule I classification by a lack of research but because we can’t even study it properly we won’t be able to move forward. A U.S. Senate committee wrote in a report titled, “Barriers to Research” that, “the Committee is concerned that restrictions associated with Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act effectively limit the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain Schedule I drugs, especially marijuana or its component chemicals and certain synthetic drugs.” Cannabis is the only drug in Schedule I that is prohibited from being produced by private laboratories for scientific research. Now cannabis advocates are trying to decide whether rescheduling or completely de-scheduling cannabis is the best move for its advancement.