Groups debate legal classification of marijuana

October 31, 2005

Vanessa Stumpf, California Aggie

 The controversy of using marijuana medicinally continues to swell as rallies take place across the nation and a national advocacy group has called for a federal reclassification of the drug that would likely make it available on a prescription basis.

  Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug under U.S. law, and has been for over 30 years.

This rating identifies marijuana among the most dangerous drugs, and according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, this classification is reserved for drugs that have no recognized medical use and a high potential for addiction or abuse. Marijuana shares placement in this category with heroin.

  The federal scale, enacted by Congress under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, has five levels, with Schedule V being the least dangerous.

  According to Hilary McQuie, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based advocacy group for medical marijuana, a placement into Schedule II would allow for marijuana to be available via pharmaceutical companies to the public for medical use as well as open the door for expanded scientific research.

  Casey McEnry, spokesperson for the San Francisco Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said that marijuana is considered a drug and not a medical tool and will be opposed as long as it holds a Schedule I classification.

  “Whether it should be used as a medicine should be determined by scientific fields, not by a drug legalization lobbyist,” McEnry said.

  McQuie also agreed that a classification of the drug should be based upon science, citing the 1970 decision as flawed.

  “Scientists didn’t come up with these categories; politicians did,” she said.

  Both entities concurred that scientific evidence should be the backbone of a reclassification or change in the standpoint on the effectiveness of the drug. There appears to be no definitive consensus from the greater medical community on the issue.

  The Food and Drug Administration acknowledged the uses of medical marijuana in a testimony dated Apr. 1, 2004 but remained neutral as to a position on the drug.

  “FDA has not approved marijuana for medical use in the United States,” said the testimony. “Despite its status as an unapproved new drug, there has been considerable interest in its use for the treatment of a number of conditions.”

  Currently, California holds the legal standpoint that the seriously ill can have access to medical marijuana with the recommendation of their physician. This action was the result of Proposition 215, the 1996 state initiative that passed with a 56 percent approval rate.

  California is among less than a dozen other states that allow some form of medical marijuana use, including Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Montana and Vermont. McQuie said a reconsideration of this rating will significantly aid the states that lack such medicinal marijuana laws, but are pursuing them, such as Pennsylvania and Texas.

  “The rescheduling is on behalf of the people who are in states that don’t have medicinal marijuana laws,” she said.

  Citizens of California experience a greater protection under Proposition 215, so a new classification, according to McQuie, would not affect California as heavily. Here, the vast majority of medical marijuana arrests are the result of state and local authorities.

  Several rallies are planned for November across the state.

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