News, Politics

To Reschedule or Deschedule: The 2 Pathways to Cannabis Reform

February 17, 2020 11:12 am ET
To Reschedule or Deschedule: The 2 Pathways to Cannabis Reform

Federal Cannabis Reform is overdue. Support for cannabis reform continues to grow with some reports showing up to 64% in support of legal access to cannabis. Legalizing cannabis appears to be what a majority of survey-takers want. Legalizing would, at the same time support the public opinion, open up a new tax revenue stream for the federal government, as well as create a number of jobs directly and indirectly associated with the cannabis industry. We can only speculate when federal cannabis reform will happen in the US but the time to discuss realistic options is now.

Many efforts to legalize cannabis at the federal level have come and failed. In fact, thousands of pieces of legislation have been drafted and introduced in attempts to change the current federal legal status of cannabis. While recent bipartisan legislation was approved by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee; the bill could pave the way for full-scale legalization of cannabis in the United States if subsequently approved by the House of Representatives and Senate.

Pathways to Cannabis Reform

Rescheduling cannabis and decriminalization cannabis do not mean the same thing for federal legalization. Decriminalization refers to the relaxation of criminal penalties associated with personal cannabis use. Legalization, on the other hand, not only allows individual cannabis possession but in most cases, it also permits the legal production and sale. While both options seem better than the current situation, they could actually make it more difficult to access.

Rescheduling Cannabis

The current federal status has influenced more hindrances than just legal access for consumers. US cannabis research is significantly behind other countries because of the difficulty research facilities face in conducting studies on Schedule I drugs, which in the US currently includes cannabis. Rescheduling to a Schedule II drug i.e., a drug with recognized medical benefits that’s still prone to abuse could wind up backfiring on the folks who are most fighting for its legalization: medical patients.

If cannabis was moved to Schedule II, it would likely be paraded by the general public as a major victory of medical cannabis patients, and for the cannabis movement as a whole. But in doing so, it would allow the FDA to wield full control over the industry. In some ways, Schedule II could actually be worse than Schedule I, even though we could say cannabis is legalized. Most plant advocates recognize this potential as regression rather than progression in cannabis reform.

Descheduling Cannabis

The majority of cannabis advocates are supporters of complete descheduling of cannabis at the federal level. Descheduling has obvious benefits for cannabis users, but its most active lobbyists are those who speak for the cannabis industry itself. Cumbersome regulations are regularly cited as the most hindering aspect of starting a cannabis business and the most expensive aspect of maintaining one. Descheduling would likely result in a significant reduction of regulations that would likely allow smaller brands/companies to thrive in a market that has become increasingly competitive.

Cannabis Advocates Stay Focused on Reform

Each legislative session, advocates have their fingers crossed that their most recent drafted bill advances. This bright-eyed hope for federal cannabis reform is closer than it has ever been. Every year more states legalize, more research studies and clinical trials take place, and more peer-reviewed articles are being published in support of legal cannabis access. 
In fact, progression is happening so fast, several countries have now legalized cannabis and The World Health Organization just last year gave reclassification recommendations to the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs regarding cannabis. This board of 53 member nations will decide whether to move forward on several proposals, including removing cannabis from the list of controlled substances under an international treaty and rescheduling various cannabinoids.

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