Could Rescheduling Marijuana Backfire?

Nothing is guaranteed in politics, but it looks increasingly likely Hillary Clinton will annihilate Donald Trump on Election Day.

That could be great news for stoners: Clinton has openly called for rescheduling marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, a Nixon-era law that designates drugs controlled by the federal government. Cannabis appears on schedule 1, the category reserved for heroin, molly, and other drugs outlawed for any use.

Marijuana policy reformers say moving pot to a lower schedule would mark a critical first step toward legalization at the federal level. But some observers worry the idea might not work out so well in real life. If the DEA or Congress reschedules, these advocates say, medical cannabis patients could actually find it harder to get their medicine.

Would Clinton reschedule cannabis?

It’s not clear how fast a Clinton administration might move to reschedule weed. Clinton has said she supports the idea and wants to let states chart their own course on legalization, though she has ruled out federal legalization in the immediate future. But she has promised to keep an “open mind” on the subject.

There is wisdom in the idea that rescheduling marijuana could speed the journey toward legalization. If the drug is moved to schedule 2, doctors would eventually be able to prescribe it under DEA licenses, though its legal uses would be tightly restricted.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

But before physicians could start writing federally approved prescriptions, the FDA would have to complete multi-phase clinical trials, a process that could take years. In the meantime, what happens to medical pot laws? Would the drug be re-criminalized because the federal government forbids doctors from prescribing it while it is under FDA review?

Theoretically at least, the FDA and DEA could team up to crack down on medicinal cannabis once the FDA starts trials. That would be exactly the opposite of the result reformers want.

Yet in practical terms, none of these outcomes is likely. Medical pot is already legal under the statutes of 25 states and the District of Columbia, with another 16 states allowing a non-intoxicating form of the drug for children with epilepsy. Cannabis is widely available to patients in most of these places, making it practically impossible for the DEA to enforce an FDA ban.

Patients’ access to medicine is secure

medical marijuana in bottleMedical pot smokers, in other words, aren’t in grave danger of losing access to their medicine in states that allow it. But other problems loom.

For example, the FDA imposes a host of expensive regulations on other medications. These include rules on cultivation, processing, marketing, potency, packaging, labeling, and efficacy, among other aspects of drug production. Pot would become part of Big Pharma, and the rules applied to that industry would also apply to marijuana.

But while moving marijuana to a lower schedule could have unintended consequences, the benefits would outweigh the risk. The whole point of legalization is to remove barriers to adult use of a popular drug. It wouldn’t make much sense for Clinton and her administration to let that happen – especially if she wants the pothead vote in 2020.

Let us know what you think: Would rescheduling marijuana make life better for stoners – or worse? Drop us a comment below.

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