What Would Happen if the DEA Reschedules Cannabis This Year?

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The DEA will announce whether or not they will reschedule cannabis by “sometime mid-year” from its current Schedule I status to something else. That means the future of cannabis on a federal level could be decided as soon as tomorrow and as late as mid-summer.

This major decision by the DEA, likely influenced by the FDA’s recommendation, involves a thorough process and the insight of NIDA and the CDC in addition to the FDA. While the DEA’s decision and potential rescheduling has garnered plenty of media attention, there hasn’t been enough discussion on exactly what would happen if the DEA does in fact reschedule marijuana.

The pipe dream for cannabis activists and business owners would be for the DEA to simply de-schedule cannabis, thus decriminalizing and liberating the plant. That won’t happen. The more likely scenario will see the DEA rescheduling cannabis from its current Schedule I status to a Schedule II status.

Here’s what that very possible outcome of rescheduling cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II status would accomplish:

1) Accepted Medical Use & Research: Cannabis’ current Schedule I status does not make it easy and in most cases even possible for researchers to study the marijuana plant’s medical value (particularly with human and not rodent test subjects). Hence, the viable medical research and studies are largely done by private universities aside from the federal government’s grow operation in Mississippi. If cannabis becomes Schedule II, that key unlocks the door for more medical research and studies via legitimate scientific resources. Currently, doctors must go through a thorough process to obtain “special licensing from the DEA” which includes an on-site, “background visit.” The DEA does not hand out those licenses easily. This scheduling change would allow physicians and researchers much easier pipelines to studying the effects of cannabis on different medical conditions. And that could unlock insight into the over 60 compounds in cannabis that go way beyond THC and CBD–compounds which have currently unknown effects. Additionally, the supply of marijuana could come from private sources and a variety of medical marijuana states–so more genetics would be studied.

2) New Company: Along with that medical distinction, cannabis would consequentially find itself associated with less onerous drugs. Rather than grouped with other Schedule I drugs, cannabis would share classification with current Schedule II drugs. That means, on a basic level, that cannabis wouldn’t be considered on the same playing field as Schedule II drugs that include Hallucinogenics (LSD, Peyote, Mescaline, etc.), Opioids, and Opium Derivatives (Heroin). Instead, cannabis would be categorized as a Schedule II drug with known medical use just like Codeine, Morphine, Opium, Cocaine, and other drugs. While surprising that those aforementioned drugs have “known medical use”, their current classification highlights just how bizarre marijuana’s current scheduling is. Fortunately, should this go through, cannabis will no longer be spoken of in the same breath as Heroin.

3) Open the Banks: Despite being medically legal in 23 states (plus D.C.) and legal in four others (plus D.C.) and despite being a $5 billion legal industry, cannabis businesses do not have access to traditional banking services. Thus, marijuana remains a cash business that eschews credit cards. That means cannabis businesses, dispensaries specifically, are at high-risk. The banking issue represents a murky dilemma that some pro-cannabis Senators have tried to solve this riddle by way of a marijuana banking bill. They have failed, in large part, because cannabis is a Schedule I drug. That classification alone blocks the government from seriously considering allowing federal banks to work with cannabis businesses. Moving cannabis away from its nasty association with Heroin and associating it with regulated drugs like Codeine could swing the scales of justice. Last month, Oregon became the first state to pass a banking bill protecting in-state banks that deal with cannabis businesses. The rescheduling of cannabis could allow this to happen not just in state, but on a federal level.

4) FDA Approval: As noted, the FDA is already urging the DEA to make this demonstrative move. Reading between the lines, that’s because marijuana cannot and will not become an FDA approved drug until it moves to Schedule II status. The FDA currently states that while cannabis may indeed have medical value and while it knows many people seek the drug’s approval, there’s not enough scientific research and evidence to approve the drug. As aforementioned, moving cannabis to Schedule II status would vastly increase the amount of research and human studies done with medical cannabis. That step would then pave the way for the FDA to receive enough viable, empirical evidence that cannabis can be an FDA approved drug. Naturally, the arduous process of FDA approval relates directly from the DEA. This is how that process works:

The FDA reviews the IND application and the research protocol submitted by the applicant.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reviews the registration application filed by the researcher.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) within the National Institutes of Health operates pursuant to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. NIDA has been designated the responsible agency to supply research-grade marijuana to researchers.

Given the FDA’s decision to ask the DEA to consider this move, it seems likely that the FDA would, once enough data presents itself, ultimately approve cannabis and its derivatives.

5) The End of Prohibition: All of the aforementioned factors would pave the way for the penultimate marijuana move: federal decriminalization and/or legalization. It may take five years. It may take 10 years. It may take 20 years. But if marijuana gets rescheduled, federal legislators will have no choice but to seriously consider legalization. That would mean marijuana could, potentially, cross state lines, be sold online, and be treated like the normalized, modern medical industry it has the wherewithal to be. Furthermore, the end of prohibition and the decriminalization of cannabis would mean no one would senselessly go to jail for selling or smoking this divergent plant. Likewise, police forces and the judicial system would no longer use valuable time and money on persecuting cannabis users and believers. We might not see people dancing and smoking in the streets when this day comes, but it will feel like that on the inside.

Of course, all of this could simply go up in smoke should the DEA decide to stay put. So stay tuned!