Pubdate: Fri, 22 Apr 2016
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Copyright: 2016 Journal Sentinel Inc.
Author: Tom Kertscher
Note: PolitiFact


Campaigning for president in the liberal oasis of Madison, U.S. Sen. 
Bernie Sanders of Vermont rose to the defense of marijuana.

Critical of the nation's war on drugs, Sanders said the lives of 
millions of Americans have been "ruined" because they got a police 
record for possessing marijuana.

"Today, under the federal Controlled Substance Act, marijuana is 
listed in the same Schedule I as heroin. That is nuts," Sanders 
declared March 26, 10 days before he defeated Hillary Clinton in 
Wisconsin's Democratic primary.

"Now people can argue - although I suspect in this audience there may 
not be much of an argument - about the pluses and minuses of 
marijuana," he said, drawing cheers from some of the thousands in 
attendance at the Alliant Energy Center. "But everybody knows 
marijuana is not a killer drug like heroin."

Sanders then noted he had introduced legislation to remove marijuana 
from the Controlled Substance Act because possession of it "should 
not be a federal crime."

We found that Sanders wasn't smoking anything funny in claiming that 
both marijuana and heroin are Schedule I drugs, which he has 
continued to say while campaigning in New York and Pennsylvania.

But his claim is somewhat misleading: That classification is based on 
a drug's acceptable medical use and the drug's abuse or dependency 
potential, not on criminal statutes.

The law

The Controlled Substance Act, adopted in 1970, uses five schedules to 
classify drugs and narcotics by medical U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of 
Vermont, Democratic presidential candidate use and potential to 
incite substance abuse.

On the low end is Schedule V, which includes substances such as cough 
medicines with small amounts of the narcotic codeine.

At the high end is Schedule I, which lists the "most dangerous" drugs 
- - those that have "no currently accepted medical use and a high 
potential for abuse."

Marijuana is stronger than when the Controlled Substance Act was 
adopted (as ex-GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina correctly stated).

Nevertheless Schedule II includes some drugs often considered more 
dangerous than marijuana.

Here's a look at some of the drugs in the two schedules:

Schedule I: Marijuana, heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, Peyote

Schedule II: Cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, OxyContin, fentanyl

The Huffington Post this month, citing figures from the federal 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the nation recorded 
no marijuana overdose deaths in 2015. Likewise, there were zero in 2014.

It's possible marijuana might soon be moved off Schedule I.

A week after Sanders' speech, the Washington Post reported that the 
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said it hopes to decide by July 
whether to change the federal status of marijuana.

Now let's get to Sanders' implication that the schedule relates to 
criminal law enforcement.

Marijuana treated differently

Distribution, manufacturing or possession of a Schedule I substance 
is indeed a federal offense.

Additionally, marijuana being on Schedule I, drug policy experts told 
us, makes it more difficult for licensed dealers in states that have 
legalized marijuana or medical marijuana to get bank accounts and to 
deduct business expenses on their taxes. And the classification makes 
it more difficult for researchers to study marijuana in clinical trials.

But judges come down harder on heroin possession than marijuana possession.

And when it comes to enforcement of criminal statutes, the federal 
government to some extent has looked the other way when it comes to marijuana.

As PolitiFact National stated in a related fact check:

Schedule I substances cannot legally be used for medical purposes; 
however, 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws 
legalizing medical marijuana.

In 2009, the administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, 
told federal law enforcement agencies to stop targeting medical 
marijuana dispensaries, signaling a change from the approach of 
Obama's predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush.

Similarly, in 2013, the Department of Justice said it would not 
target new laws in Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational marijuana.

While Sanders equates the handling of marijuana and heroin, it's 
difficult to imagine the federal government not enforcing the law if 
states started legalizing heroin.

Our rating

Criticizing the nation's war on drugs, Sanders says that under the 
federal Controlled Substance Act, "marijuana is listed in the same 
Schedule I as heroin," even though "marijuana is not a killer drug 
like heroin."

Like heroin, marijuana is indeed listed as a Schedule I drug, the 
federal designation given to drugs considered the most dangerous. But 
at least under the Obama administration, the federal government 
doesn't treat it as one under the law.

For a statement that is accurate but needs clarification, our rating 
is Mostly True.

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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom