Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Reclassifying Marijuana Would Be Game-Changing

A patron at the library just let me know about a news blurb that came out a few days ago, so I went online and checked on the reports.

The federal agencies responsible for how drugs are classified for use - especially ones that can be addictive and harmful - are considering reclassifying Marijuana from Schedule I drug - listed as one of the most dangerous drugs out there - downward to Schedule II - which is harmful but not as criminally severe. Link to ABC News report on this:

Federal authorities have announced that they are reviewing the possibility of loosening the classification of marijuana, and if this happens, it could have a far-reaching impact on how the substance is used in medical settings, experts said.
Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it is listed alongside heroin and LSD as among the "most dangerous drugs" and has "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."
The Drug Enforcement Administration announced last week that it is reviewing the possibility of reclassifying it as a Schedule II drug, which would put it in the same category as Ritalin, Adderal and oxycodone.
Medical experts are welcoming the review, saying it could ease restrictions for researchers, so that they can better understand which compounds in marijuana could be used to help patients...
I'm amazed there hasn't been more talk about this in the major blogs or media outlets. This could be a major shift in not only medical research - which the article focuses too much on - but also our entire legal system and the 40-year-plus War On Drugs.

Marijuana (pot) is one of the more commonly used illegal drugs in the nation, and one of the more prosecuted by an aggressive legal system fighting that War On Drugs that shows no signs of ending. It's a drug that's listed among the worst of the worst, in a scheduled class containing drugs with a high incidence of overdoses and deaths such as heroin.

...And yet, marijuana isn't as lethal as heroin or even other lesser Schedule drugs like opoids (pain-killers). Here's a government website that's charting drug overdoses, listing even prescription drugs alongside cocaine and heroin. Notice anything? THERE'S NO CHART FOR MARIJUANA. There are no reported cases of overdose deaths (granted, there are some reports of overdosing related to pot but no-one's died from them).

In terms of the effects marijuana has on the human body, it's less harmful than alcohol. And yet we treat marijuana as a criminal offense while alcoholism - outside of DUI, which is a major public safety risk and deserves criminal treatment - is handled as a health care medical issue.

The reasons for marijuana being treated as a Schedule I has less to do with the facts and more to do with politics. It's even come out recently that the War On Drugs that began under the Nixon administration was purely political:

The April cover story of Harper’s magazine explains not just how counterproductive the drug war has been but also, and perhaps more importantly, its racist roots. Written by Dan Baum, the article lays out the case for legalization, which is worth absorbing on its own. But it begins with a startling revelation from John Ehrlichman, one of Richard Nixon’s close aides and a Watergate co-conspirator.
This quote is from 1994, when Baum was writing a book about drug prohibition. Baum tracked Ehrlichman down, hoping to get some insight into the drug war, which began in earnest during Nixon’s administration. Ehrlichman’s explanation was surprisingly blunt:
“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black people, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

What happened since the War started was a round of mass incarcerations, focused primarily on Blacks and to a lesser extent Hispanics and Asians, justified by the criminalization of certain drugs -marijuana - that those communities enjoyed over others. But marijuana had been vilified decades before - say hello to Anslinger - much to the extent that badly ill-informed movies about pot like Reefer Madness were made in the 1930s (if viewed objectively, the drugs the actors in that movie seem to be on is Meth or speed, not pot). By 1968, with the wave of civil unrest tied into a youth culture getting high, it was easy to exploit again.

The result has been long jail sentences for possession of pot for a large number of otherwise non-violent offenders that had led to overcrowded prisons and the downward spiral of the imprisoned into a life of crime (either to survive, or because their felony histories block them from meaningful jobs and livelihoods). The impact on entire communities - loss of employment, loss of income, loss of social aid, loss of voting rights - cannot be understated.

A lot of that is excused by having marijuana listed so high - erroneously, intentionally - as a lethal drug. So what happens if/when pot drops to the less-lethal Schedule II?

Actually, not a lot. The Federal government treats Schedule II drugs at about the same level of penalties as a Schedule I.

But this is where the medical aspect of the lesser Schedule comes into play: Making marijuana a Schedule II drug makes it EASIER for corporations and medical research facilities to access the drug for testing and pharma development. Most of what we know about marijuana's benefits are mostly anecdotal or on just-recent testing by other nations also loosening their penalties on pot. A more rigorous and thorough scientific research into the chemicals related to marijuana can quickly identify the medical/health aspects of cannabis consumption, and give cause to reduce the Schedule status for pot even further.

We'd have better scientific evidence that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol, which we DO regulate with age restrictions, DUI laws, and other legal prohibitions. We'd have better evidence to drop marijuana even further into lesser Schedules that won't lead to automatic jail-time. And where we deal with alcoholism by treating it as a medical issue - and by creating social norms of alcohol consumption with moderation and common sense - we would treat any marijuana addiction as a health issue as well. And we wouldn't have a War On Drugs wasting everyone's time and money with needlessly excessive prison sentences.

Granted, this won't end the larger War On Drugs - there's still cocaine and meth and heroin and painkiller abuse to worry about - but dropping this one overwhelming part of that War could free up a lot of our resources, and bring some relief to our communities wrecked by an unjust pursuit against a mild substance.


dinthebeast said...

The drug war has always been a fraud, and I've watched a couple of good friends get murdered over it. I feel embarrassed that California is now the only state on the West Coast where marijuana isn't legal. I was born and raised in Humboldt County, so I have seen my share of marijuana use, although I haven't used it myself for decades. As far as the scheduling goes, I feel the same way about pot as I do about gun violence: If you don't want anyone to find out what is really happening (with restrictions on research) then I have to wonder why you don't.

-Doug in Oakland

Infidel753 said...

Banning marijuana and classifying it as dangerous has always been absurd to the point of surreal. As long as this policy remains in place, no one should believe anything the government says on the subject.

Alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana, and tobacco is far deadlier than either, yet we accept legal availability plus regulation as the best way of handling those. Let's hope sanity eventually prevails with other drugs.

Pinku-Sensei said...

Paul: The news you passed along in this entry is the main reason why I decided to post about and other marijuana legalization/decriminalization laws at my blog on Wednesday (well, that and the day itself). Pot and booze--yes, that's the influence you have on me.

@dinthebeast: "I feel the same way about pot as I do about gun violence: If you don't want anyone to find out what is really happening (with restrictions on research) then I have to wonder why you don't." That's why I joined doctors asking Congress to fund gun violence research.