Almost since marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug way back in 1970, there have been calls to reconsider its federal status. Schedule I drugs are those that the U.S. government deems have “no medical use and a high potential for abuse,” and pot is placed in this same category along with substances like cocaine, heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
But this week, Uncle Sam indicated that weed may finally be rescheduled as a Schedule II drug, which has “acceptable medical uses.” On Tuesday, the Drug Enforcement Administration responded to a December letter from U.S. lawmakers and said that it will make a decision on marijuana's status sometime during the first half of this year.
If pot is indeed bumped down to Schedule II, it won't have any direct impact on recreational weed sales in Washington; although it could be a boon to the medical marijuana industry nationwide. What would be significant about this change is the ease of restrictions on research involving pot.
For instance, the DEA memo indicated that an average of just nine researchers per year received “legal” marijuana for testing purposes between 2010 and 2015. Moreover, the CDC notes that while its agencies do include marijuana use in its standard drug monitoring surveys, this research does not distinguish between recreational use and medical use. And the federal government has only sanctioned marijuana production for research at one facility: the University of Mississippi.
But if research restrictions are loosened, U.S. scientists could more accurately determine the efficacy and/or risks of consuming marijuana. These results could not only help lawmakers shape recreational pot policies, but they could also lead to better information for patients for whom medical marijuana might provide some relief from their symptoms.
However, this news does not automatically mean that marijuana will be rescheduled. The DEA has a long and storied history of rebuffing attempts to move pot to a lower drug classification.