Last week, a number of mainstream media outlets suggested that rescheduling marijuana might bridge the gap between conflicting state and federal laws following the passage of Amendment 64 -- this despite the fact that the federal government took nine months to shrug off Colorado's rescheduling suggestion. Even so, A64 proponent Mason Tvert thinks such a move would be a positive step, but isn't holding his breath.
"I think there need to be a combination of things," says Tvert, who recently became a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "There is no silver bullet to end marijuana prohibition as a whole in this country."
As we've noted, eighteen states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing marijuana to be used for medical purposes. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration considers the substance to be a Schedule I narcotic -- meaning that it offers no known or acknowledged medical benefit. Other Schedule I narcotics include heroin, whereas Schedule II lists the likes of cocaine and opium. Nonetheless, DEA administrator Michele Leonhart refused to acknowledge that marijuana is less dangerous than many Schedule I or Schedule II drugs during a Congressional hearing a few months back -- and she had an underling reject a formal letter from Colorado Department of Revenue executive Barbara Brohl sent in December 2011 under mandate from state statute.
This response is perfectly in keeping with the DEA's longtime disinterest in rescheduling marijuana, as Tvert knows well. "On multiple occasions, administrative law judges at the DEA have said marijuana should not be a Schedule I drug," he says. "But those are non-binding recommendations."
Tvert makes specific reference to a 1988 ruling by DEA administrative law judge Francis L. Young, who encouraged the immediate rescheduling of marijuana. The entire document is below, but here are some excerpts:
"Based upon the facts established in this record and set out above, one must reasonably conclude that there is accepted safety for use of marijuana under medical supervision."
"To conclude otherwise, on this record, would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious...."
"The cannabis plant considered as a whole has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is no lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision and it may lawfully be transferred from Schedule I to Schedule II. The judge recommends that the Administrator transfer cannabis."
Continue for more of our interview with Mason Tvert about marijuana rescheduling, and to see two documents. Nearly a quarter-century later, Young's suggestions have yet to be taken. "Unfortunately, we haven't seen the DEA listen to its own judges," Tvert says.
Even so, Tvert doesn't reject the notion of revving up the rescheduling conversation again.
"It's certainly a discussion to have," he says. "But in the meantime, the people in Colorado and Washington have made it clear they don't think adults should be arrested or prosecuted for possession or use of marijuana. And people in eighteen states throughout the nation have made it clear they don't think patients should be punished for using marijuana to alleviate symptoms of medical conditions, and to treat those conditions.
"People are no longer looking to the scheduling system as being objective or accurate, because of its absurd inclusion of marijuana as a Schedule I substance."
Look below to see DEA administrative law judge Francis L. Young's 1988 ruling, followed by the current controlled substances schedule.
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More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: DEA takes nine months to brush off Colorado's reschedule-pot request."