Legislation currently in Congress could move marijuana from its current spot atop the federal government’s list of hazardous drugs.

United States CongressThe amendment, years in the making, would reschedule cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. While it wouldn’t make weed legal at the federal level, it could make it easier for scientists to study the drug and for doctors to prescribe it.

The amendment to the 21st Century Cures Act was filed by four members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon. The underlying bill would spur research into new medicines, including weed.

“Given the widespread use of medical marijuana, it is imperative that doctors better understand how it can be used to treat different people and conditions, as well as the risks involved,” Blumenauer said. “Our amendment shows members of Congress with widely varying views on marijuana policy are united in support of building a robust body of scientific information on medical marijuana.”

Bipartisan support

The bipartisan sponsors also include Reps. Sam Farr, Democrat of California; Morgan Griffith, Republican of Virginia; and Andy Harris, Republican of Maryland. Harris’ involvement is somewhat surprising, since he was the congressman who tried unsuccessfully to block legalization in Washington, D.C.

Drug policy, Harris said, should be built on “sound science,” and research on the medical benefits of pot is “sorely lacking.”

“We need science to clearly determine whether marijuana has medicinal benefits, and if so, what is the best way to gain those benefits,” he said.

Schedule 1 reserved for the most dangerous, addictive and medically useless drugs

File photo of a medical marijuana starter plantThe Controlled Substances Act divides legally controlled drugs into five categories, or schedules. The top of the list, schedule 1, contains chemicals the federal government believes are inherently dangerous, especially addictive, and medically useless. Other drugs in schedule 1 include heroin, ecstasy, and LSD.

Cannabis advocates have protested the drug’s listing for decades, with no success. Weed was placed in schedule 1 in the early 1970s, during the first phase of President Richard Nixon’s war on drugs, and it has remained there, untouched, ever since.

The amendment wouldn’t move pot entirely out of schedule 1, but it would reclassify it under a new sub-schedule, 1-R. That wouldn’t allow the government to legalize the drug without congressional approval, but it might make medical marijuana research easier.

But not necessarily. Some observers say the schedule isn’t what’s blocking research. Rather, they say, scientists are stymied by specific federal laws that ban marijuana for any use and by federal law enforcement agencies determined to eradicate the drug at any cost.

But activists praised the amendment as a sign that attitudes toward cannabis are changing.

“It’s great to see that even the most ardent opponents of legalization are finally admitting that it’s wrong for the federal government to block research on marijuana’s medical benefits,” said Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority. “All we’ve ever asked is that marijuana policy be dictated by science and fairness, and we feel confident that research will continue to show that keeping cannabis in schedule 1 is completely inappropriate.”

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