Debate Forum: 04/21

Forum Center: Can we reschedule?

By Sarah Sidlow
Illustration: Jed Helmers

As more and more states slowly begin the process of legalizing marijuana for medical and, in some instances, recreational use, many have begun to question whether the drug’s federal schedule classification should be reconsidered.

Currently, marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug – the highest rank given by the Drug Enforcement Administration – and is classified among heroin, LSD and ecstasy. The Schedule I category is set aside for drugs that are considered to have no medical purpose, are unsafe even under medical supervision and contain a high potential for abuse. By contrast, cocaine and methamphetamine rank one level lower than marijuana, as Schedule II drugs.

Marijuana has been considered part of the Schedule I category since the 1970s, when Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act, which was signed by President Nixon. Since 1972, groups like the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws have fought to remove cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

The strict Schedule I label is a problem, marijuana advocates claim, because it brings with it the harshest federal penalties for those caught with it, and adds additional hurdles for scientists or other researchers looking to study it.

Those who favor its rescheduling claim, simply, that marijuana does not fit in the Schedule I category. They claim research has proven marijuana’s vast medicinal uses, and that users cannot become physically addicted to the drug in the same way they can become addicted to heroin or even the less strictly classified cocaine.

Moreover, their arguments indicate it may be time to reconsider the way drug schedules are described in general, not just in regard to marijuana use. For example, if drug schedules are based on the potential for abuse, should items like food, in the midst of America’s obesity epidemic, also be considered? Should other legal drugs, like prescription Ritalin or antidepressants, alcohol, nicotine and caffeine – all of which have been argued to be more dangerous to society and individual health, and with a higher instance of addiction – be included in the Schedule I classification?

Yet there are those who stand behind marijuana’s Schedule I classification. Marijuana is a harmful drug, they claim, which continues to affect both youth and adults. They cite psychologists and medical doctors who warn marijuana has the potential to be not only highly addictive, but easily abused, or used as a gateway to other drug use. Marijuana use causes users to be less motivated, they claim, and can negatively affect motor and reasoning skills, alter mood and perception and disrupt learning and memory formation and recall.

Reach DCP Editor Sarah Sidlow at Editor@DaytonCityPaper.com

 

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Is it time for the federal government to consider removing marijuana from its current Schedule I classification?

Of cannabis and kings

Response By Tim Walker

Alice, after falling down the rabbit hole, was confronted with a selection of bottles and cakes plainly marked “Eat Me” and “Drink Me.” These items, when ingested, helped give her access to a strange land – one filled with weird characters, odd behavior and blatant incongruities. “Smoke Me” evidently wasn’t on the menu for little Alice that day, but then, despite his genius, even Lewis Carroll couldn’t have imagined the wackiness of the Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration or their ages-old classifications of dangerous drugs.

Forty-five years ago, President Richard M. Nixon signed into law the Controlled Substances Act, which was passed by the 91st U.S. Congress as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. In the 1960s, as drugs became symbols of youthful rebellion, social upheaval and political dissent, the government simultaneously halted most scientific research to evaluate their medical safety and efficacy. In June 1971, President Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” dramatically increasing the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushing through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants. Nixon temporarily placed marijuana in Schedule I, the most restrictive category of drugs, pending review by a commission he appointed led by Republican Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shafer. In 1972, the commission unanimously recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use. Nixon ignored the report and rejected its recommendations.

So, according to the federal government’s laws, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug to this day – a drug with NO currently accepted medical use and a very high potential for abuse. Other Schedule I substances include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Penalties for citizens caught using or distributing Schedule I controlled substances can be quite severe. As of 2014, over 50 percent of the inmates in federal prisons were there for drug offenses, and over a quarter of those drug offenses were for marijuana. 

Equating marijuana with heroin seems unreasonable enough on its own, but the craziness of the government’s classifications really shines when you take a look at the list of Schedule Two drugs (less dangerous, lower potential for abuse): Vicodin, cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, Dilaudid, Oxycontin, fentanyl, Ritalin, etc.

Cocaine and Methamphetamine, less addictive than marijuana? In whose Wonderland? 

As any thinking person can see, these classifications of drugs need to be reexamined and changed to reflect a national landscape that is obviously markedly different than it was in 1970.

A Schedule I drugcarries with it restrictions that make clinical trials almost impossible. Physicians and schools who wish to do research into marijuana’s medicinal properties find themselves blocked by government regulations. And physicians who prescribe Schedule I drugs to their patients risk losing their licenses, even in states which have declared medicinal marijuana use to be legal – and there are 24 of those, and nine more with pending legislation on the matter. 

No medical use? If that’s the case, why do nearly half of our 50 states allow just that? In E.B. White’s book “Charlotte’s Web” Charlotte was a spider, and she saved her porcine friend Wilbur’s life by writing messages in her web. But there’s another Charlotte… Charlotte Figi, an 8-year-old girl. And, in the opinion of her doctors and family, her life has been saved by a very different Charlotte’s Web. 

Paige Figi and her husband Matt gave birth to Charlotte in October of 2006. When Charlotte was 2 she was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome (also known as SMEI, or Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy). This terrible condition causes its victims to have more than 300 grand mal seizures per week, leaving them completely incapacitated. According to her mother, the parents eventually “gave up on her. She was five years old, and she was do not resuscitate, wheelchair, end of life, hospice, feeding tube, oxygen, seizing every 30 minutes.” 

Desperate, the family found two doctors in Colorado who were willing to prescribe CBD oil for Charlotte. CBD oil is a cannabis derivative, a marijuana extract that is high in cannabidiol content but low in THC – the part that induces marijuana’s psychoactive “high.” CBD oil has been found to help reduce epileptic seizures in patients in some instances, though much further research still needs to be done.

The CBD oil therapy worked, in Charlotte’s case, reducing her seizures to an average of four per month. The company that provides the medicine named that particular strain of cannabis “Charlotte’s Web” in her honor. She now has a life she can enjoy, and a future.

The waiting list for this therapy is now over 10,000 names long. Families have packed up and moved their children to Colorado, simply to be there if and when their children are approved for CBD oil therapy.

Is it a perfect situation? Of course not. Do further trials need to be done? Immediately. 

Is the federal government willing to reconsider its stance on marijuana as a Schedule I drug, one with no medicinal use whatsoever? Of course not. 

Call it weed. Grass. Pot. A slew of images come to mind… Hendrix. The Dead. Tie-Dye.  Cheech and Chong. Snoop Dogg. Bill Clinton, still not inhaling. The white rabbit, late as usual and running down the rabbit hole. 

The rabbit hole. The place where common sense disappears, where logic gets turned upside down.

Look closely there. You might find your local DEA office. 

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Cannabis is on the right schedule

Response By Rob Scott

More and more of the U.S. populace are beginning to support the legalization of marijuana, or what is also known as cannabis. Many feel the drug does not have the same issues as other illegal drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycodone and many others. Most compare marijuana as the category as alcohol, caffeine and even nicotine from cigarettes and cigars.

However, there is a large contingent of science and substance abuse researchers who believe marijuana should remain illegal in U.S. society. Even more interesting is that cannabis is deemed a Schedule I drug on the Controlled Substances Act.

Since 1972, there have been numerous proposals in the United States to remove cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the most tightly restricted category reserved for drugs that have “no currently accepted medical use.” Rescheduling proponents argue that cannabis does not meet the Controlled Substances act’s strict criteria for placement in Schedule I, and therefore the government is required by law either to permit medical use or to remove the drug from federal control altogether. The government, on the other hand, maintains that cannabis is dangerous enough to merit Schedule I status. The Controlled Substances Act provides a process for rescheduling controlled substances by petitioning the Drug Enforcement Administration. The first petition under this process was filed in 1972 to allow cannabis to be legally prescribed by physicians. The petition was ultimately denied after 22 years of court challenges, although a pill form of cannabis’ psychoactive ingredient, THC, was rescheduled in 1985 to allow prescription under Schedule II. In 1999, cannabis was again rescheduled to allow prescription under Schedule III. A second petition, based on claims related to clinical studies, was denied in 2001. The most recent rescheduling petition filed by medical cannabis advocates was in 2002, but was denied by the DEA in July 2011. Subsequently, medical cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access filed an appeal in January 2012 with the D.C. Circuit, which was heard on Oct. 16, 2011 and denied on Jan. 22, 2013. As of January 2015, 22 states and Washington D.C. have legalized the use of medical marijuana. According to the Deputy Director of Regulatory Programs at the FDA, Douglas Throckmorton, the FDA is conducting an analysis, at the request of the DEA, on whether marijuana should be downgraded.

In 1992, DEA Administrator Robert Bonner promulgated five criteria, based somewhat on the Controlled Substances Act’s legislative history, for determining whether a drug has an accepted medical use. The DEA claims that cannabis has no accepted medical use because it does not meet all of these criteria: the drug’s chemistry is known and reproducible; there are adequate safety studies; there are adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy; the drug is accepted by qualified experts; and the scientific evidence is widely available.

Judicial deference to agency decisions is what has kept them in effect, despite the difference between these and the statutory criteria. Cannabis is one of several plants with unproven abuse potential and toxicity that Congress placed in Schedule I. The DEA interprets the Controlled Substances Act to mean that if a drug has even a low potential for abuse and has no accepted medical use, it must remain in Schedule I.

It is undisputed that if the drug has at least some potential for abuse sufficient to warrant control under the CSA, the drug must remain in Schedule I. In such circumstances, placement of the drug in schedules II through V would conflict with the CSA since such drug would not meet the criterion of “a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

The Food and Drug Administration has elaborated on this, arguing the widespread use of cannabis, and the existence of some heavy users, is evidence of its “high potential for abuse,” despite the drug’s lack of physiological addictiveness. According to the FDA, 

physical dependence and toxicity are not the only factors to consider in determining a substance’s abuse potential. The large number of individuals using marijuana on a regular basis and the vast amount of marijuana that is available for illicit use are indicative of widespread use. In addition, there is evidence that marijuana use can result in psychological dependence in a certain proportion of the population.

The U.S. Department of Justice also considers the fact that people are willing to risk scholastic, career and legal problems to use cannabis as evidence of its high potential for abuse.

Ultimately, the argument comes down whether or not in the long term, cannabis is going to be legal to use in the United States. Currently, the drug is illegal under Federal law and most U.S. states for regular use. For medical use, it can be prescribed in many states, but so can many other drugs on the FDA schedules.

Regardless, in many ways, cannabis is viewed like alcohol, if we could uninvent it, we would. The potential for abuse is very high and the possibility of ruining lives is real.

Rob Scott is a general practice attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is a Kettering City Councilman, founder of the Dayton Tea Party, member of the Dayton Masonic Lodge and Kettering Rotary. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or www.gemcitylaw.com.

Tags: , ,

Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

One Response to “Debate Forum: 04/21” Subscribe