Pubdate: Sat, 30 Apr 2016
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2016 The Denver Post Corp
Author: Bill Piper
Note: Bill Piper is senior director of national affairs for the Drug 
Policy Alliance. Special to The Washington Post


Congress and President Obama are under pressure to reschedule 
marijuana. While rescheduling makes sense, it wouldn't fix the broken 
scheduling system. Ideally, marijuana reform should be part of a 
broader bill rewriting the Controlled Substances Act.

The Controlled Substances Act created a five-category scheduling 
system for most legal and illegal drugs (although alcohol and tobacco 
were notably omitted). Depending on what category a drug is in, the 
drug is either subject to varying degrees of regulation and control 
(Schedules II through V) - or completely prohibited (Schedule I). The 
scheduling of various drugs was decided largely by Congress and 
absent a scientific process - with some strange results.

For instance, while methamphetamine and cocaine are Schedule II 
drugs, making them available for medical use, marijuana is scheduled 
alongside PCP and heroin as a Schedule I drug, which prohibits any 
medical use. Making matters worse, the CSA gives law enforcement - 
not scientists or health officials - the final say on how new drugs 
should be scheduled and whether or not old drugs should be 
rescheduled. Unsurprisingly, law enforcement blocks reform.

Starting in 1972, the Drug Enforcement Administration obstructed a 
formal request to reschedule marijuana for 16 years. After being 
forced by the courts to make a decision, the agency held two years of 
hearings. The DEA chief administrative law judge who held the 
hearings and considered the issue concluded that marijuana in its 
natural form is "one of the safest therapeutically active substances 
known to man" and should be made available for medical use. Similar 
hearings on MDMA, aka ecstasy, concluded that it also has important 
medical uses. In both cases, the DEA overruled its administrative law 
judge and kept the drugs in Schedule I, unavailable for medical use.

The current drug scheduling system is also structurally flawed. There 
are no categories for drugs that have no medical value but have not 
proved to be highly addictive either, such as various synthetic drugs 
like "spice" or "bath salts." Nor are there categories for drugs 
waiting to be evaluated for medical use.

The Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970. Forty-six years and 
eight presidents later, it remains almost exactly as it was enacted. 
While federal drug policy hasn't changed much since President Nixon, 
individual states have moved in a new direction. Twenty-four states 
and the District have legalized marijuana for medical use; four 
states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for 
nonmedical use. The federal system is too inflexible to keep up and 
should be redesigned.

At a minimum, responsibility for determining drug classifications and 
health determinations should be completely removed from the DEA and 
transferred to a health or scientific body. Congress should overhaul 
the entire scheduling process to ensure that decisions on whether to 
criminalize a drug or not, and whether and how to regulate it, are 
decided by an objective, independent scientific process.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom