Government Cannabis Reform Calls Nothing New

One could be forgiven for believing that the shifting public opinion tides on marijuana’s Schedule I classification are a relatively new development.
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However, our Los Angeles marijuana lawyers know that this month marks 25 years since the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chief Administrative Law Judge, Francis Young, ruled on the various medicinal benefits of the drug and the need for it to be reclassified.

In the 69-page ruling, “In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling,” Judge Francis says that in its natural form, marijuana is “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.” He went on to say that anyone who analyzed the matter rationally would be able to logically conclude that marijuana, when closely supervised by medical professionals, could be safely used.

He called the DEA’s continued classification of the drug as a Schedule I to be arbitrary, unreasonable and even capricious, serving as a barrier between those who were legitimately and significantly suffering and the substance that could ease that suffering.

He didn’t argue for deregulation, but instead that it should be transferred from a Schedule I classification to a Schedule II classification.

There are a total of five schedule classifications, as laid forth by the federal government. Most drugs available to the public – from cocaine to cough medicine – are parceled out into one of these classifications. It makes all the difference in how the government approaches regulation and distribution of that drug.

Schedule I drugs are considered to be the most dangerous, while Schedule II drugs are considered to be the least dangerous.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, Schedule I drugs, substances and chemicals are those defined as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Marijuana currently falls into this category, as does heroin, LSD, peyote and ecstasy.

Schedule II substances are those with a high potential for abuse, with the possibility of developing a severe physical and/or psychological dependence. Drugs in this category are still considered dangerous, but they do have medically acceptable uses. Examples of drugs in this category are methamphetamine, cocaine, Dilaudid, Demerol, OxyContin, Adderall, Ritalin, fentanyl and Dexedrine.

And so it goes on down the line in terms of potential for danger and dependence, with Schedule V drugs including substances such as Robitussin that are often sold over-the-counter.

Late last month, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that sometime in September, he expected to hold a hearing on the Justice Department’s recent response to marijuana legalization for both medicinal and recreational purposes. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Justice Department would not pursue legal action against marijuana dispensaries and users in states where the drug had been approved and was tightly regulated. Leahy said Holder needed to clarify the conflicts between state and federal law – specifically the fact that marijuana, while approved for use in 20 states and D.C., remains a Schedule I substance under federal law.

Many pro-marijuana advocates view Leahy’s call for a hearing a means to force the issue with Holder, who had previously sidestepped the conflicting policies, leaving the door wide open for arbitrary prosecutions and civil actions against dispensaries, landlords and patients/consumers.

We hope that as these hearings get underway, the words of Judge Francis will be more carefully considered than when he first wrote them in 1988, in response to a petition by NORML to reschedule cannabis under federal law. The petition was first filed in 1972, and was only heard by Francis after nearly 15 years of delays. Even after Francis’ ruling, the DEA’s then-administrator rejected the court’s determination. The case was appealed to a federal appellate court, which ultimately upheld the administrator’s reversal of Young’s ruling.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
25 Years Ago: DEA’s Own Administrative Law Judge Ruled Cannabis Should Be Reclassified Under Federal Law, Sept. 6, 2013, By Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, The Daily Chronic
More Blog Entries:
Marijuana DUI Harder to Prove, Certainly Still Prosecutable, Aug. 30, 2013, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog