May 14, 2024

Marijuana Policy

The U.S. Justice Department [late last month] moved to make marijuana use a less serious federal crime… The Justice Department, which oversees the Drug Enforcement Administration, said Attorney General Merrick Garland recommended that cannabis be classified as a so-called schedule three drug, with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence, instead of schedule one, which is reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse…

“Reclassifying marijuana represents a first step toward narrowing the chasm between state and federal cannabis laws. The drug is legal in some form in nearly 40 states. While rescheduling the drug does not make it legal, it would open up the doors to more research and medical use, lighter criminal penalties and increased private investment in the cannabis sector.” Reuters

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From the Left

The left supports rescheduling, arguing that it will facilitate research into marijuana’s potential benefits.

“One study shows about half of those who used medical cannabis reduced their use of opioids. Furthermore, both opioids and nonopioid pain medications have limited effectiveness for treating chronic pain. Medications used for chronic pain can provide small to moderate pain relief in some people, but many ultimately cause side effects that outweigh any gains…

“These safety issues and limited benefit have led many people with chronic pain to try cannabis as a chronic pain treatment alternative. Indeed, in survey studies, my colleagues and I show that people substituted cannabis for pain medications often because cannabis had fewer negative side effects. However, more rigorous research on cannabis for chronic pain is needed.”

Kevin F. Boehnke, Salon

“Currently, recreational cannabis is legal for adults over the age of 21 in 24 states, which are home to more than half of the U.S. population. According to a recent Harris poll, about 40 percent of Americans use cannabis, and a quarter do so on at least a weekly basis. And yet, researchers and physicians told me, scientific consensus on the drug’s precise effects—especially on the heart and lungs, mental health, and developing adolescent brains—is still lacking…

“After marijuana is officially rescheduled, researchers will have a far easier time studying the drug’s effects. Researching any federally controlled substance is difficult, but obtaining the proper licenses for using Schedule III drugs in the lab is much less arduous than for Schedule I…

“Scientists will also have far more opportunities to obtain federal grant funding from all sorts of governmental bodies—the National Institutes of Health, the EPA, even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—as policy makers rush to understand the implications of legalization”

Jeremy Berke, The Atlantic

Many also argue, “If President Biden really wanted to have an impact, he would work with Congress to finally legalize marijuana federally so that the Food and Drug Administration can properly regulate it. Instead, his proposal to reschedule the drug suggests he’s comfortable pretending that it is still illegal, providing no effective federal oversight. Make no mistake: The longer marijuana companies are allowed to escape federal regulation, the more dangerous the drug becomes…

“Growers are constantly cultivating the plant to make it more potent. Whereas decades ago, a typical marijuana plant would contain less than 1.5 percent THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in the drug, today typical marijuana plants contain more than 10 times that amount. There are even oil products that are more than 90 percent THC… A strong federal response would place caps on potency and strictly regulate how marijuana products are marketed. But Biden’s proposal to reschedule the drug merely reinforces the status quo.”

Robert Gebelhoff, Washington Post

From the Right

The right opposes rescheduling, arguing that marijuana is dangerous and should remain prohibited.

The right opposes rescheduling, arguing that marijuana is dangerous and should remain prohibited.

“Information from eminently respected, peer-reviewed studies, shows that regular marijuana use impairs cognition — makes people dopey — more significantly than either alcohol or tobacco, seems to shrink the brain’s hippocampus and cause other brain damage, increases depression and suicidality, and boosts the risk of heart attacks by 25% and of strokes by 42%. It repeatedly has been shown to have numerous adverse effects on childhood and adolescent health, and its legalization has led to more car crashes, gang activity, and violent crime…

“Despite decades of mythmaking to the contrary, smoking marijuana can be highly addictive, is repeatedly associated with the onset of schizophrenia, and often acts as a ‘gateway’ to opioids and other ‘hard drugs.’ It even has been shown to be dangerous at the genetic level… The DEA knows all this well. But Biden, flailing for political lifelines while sinking in public approval, knows that marijuana advocates care more deeply about their marijuana, or at least do so in higher numbers, than do critics who follow the science.”

Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

“[Harvard Medical School Professor Bertha] Madras says she has reviewed ‘every single case of therapeutic indication for marijuana—and there are over 100 now that people have claimed—and I frankly found that the only one that came close to having some evidence from randomized controlled trials was the neuropathic pain studies.’… For other types of pain, and for all other conditions, there is no strong evidence from high-quality randomized trials to support its use…

“Advocates of legalization assert that cannabis can’t be properly studied unless the federal government removes it from Schedule I. Bunk, Ms. Madras says: ‘I have been able to study THC in my research program.’… Ms. Madras sees parallels between the marketing of pot now and of opioids a few decades ago. ‘The benefits have been exaggerated, the risks have been minimized, and skeptics in the scientific community have been ignored,’ she says. ‘The playbook is always to say it’s safe and effective and nonaddictive in people.’”

Allysia Finley, Wall Street Journal

“Rescheduling would not make states’ legal businesses compliant with federal law. Nor would it allow marijuana to be dispensed as a prescription drug. (For that, the Food and Drug Administration would need to approve some medical use.) Rescheduling would also have little impact on incarceration or marijuana-related enforcement, both of which are, in any case, already quite rare…

“The primary beneficiaries will be states’ legal marijuana businesses, which will see up to $2 billion in tax relief… Rescheduling means many more dollars for businesses selling an addictive, harmful substance—and, as RAND drug policy expert Beau Kilmer told the Associated Press, potentially more advertising for marijuana.”
Charles Fain Lehman, City Journal

A libertarian's take

“Rescheduling marijuana will not resolve the conflict between the [Controlled Substances Act] and the laws of the 38 states that recognize cannabis as a medicine, 24 of which also allow recreational use. State-licensed marijuana businesses will remain criminal enterprises under federal law…

“Even if they have state licenses, marijuana suppliers will be in the same legal position as anyone who sells a Schedule III drug without federal permission. Unauthorized distribution is punishable by up to 10 years in prison for a first offense and up to 20 years for subsequent offenses… Cannabis consumers likewise will still be committing crimes, even if they live in states that have legalized marijuana…

“The medical ‘recommendations’ that authorize patients to use marijuana for symptom relief under state law are not prescriptions, and they do not make such use compliant with the CSA. So rescheduling marijuana not only will not legalize recreational use; it will not legalize medical use either… Repealing the federal ban—a step that Americans overwhelmingly support—would resolve that conflict. And while Biden cannot do that on his own, he has stubbornly resisted the idea, even as he emphasizes the irrationality and injustice of the war on weed.”
Jacob Sullum, Reason

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