Background: With the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, cannabis was categorized as a Schedule I substance indicating no medical value and a high potential for abuse. Several presidential administrations since then have aggressively enforced federal cannabis laws even in states that have adopted laws to permit the use and distribution of cannabis for medical purposes. Despite the growing body of evidence to support therapeutic use of cannabis, the federal government continues to ignore the rescheduling recommendations of its own DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young, who ruled in 1988 that, “Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within the supervised routine of medical care.” The current attempt to reclassify cannabis by administrative petition was started in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (the CRC includes groups like the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, Americans for Safe Access, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Patients Out of Time). That petition is now pending before the DEA for final approval.

Findings: The federal status of cannabis as a dangerous drug with no medical value is at the heart of the conflict between federal and state laws. As long as cannabis remains classified as a Schedule I substance, medical cannabis patients across the country will lack reasonable, fair and equal protection. The refusal by the federal government to recognize the medical efficacy of cannabis has directly impeded efforts to implement various state medical cannabis laws. And, while sufficient evidence exists in the U.S. and elsewhere of the medical value of cannabis, the federal government, under the authority of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, keeps a stranglehold on research efforts, emphasizing harm-based studies over the investigation of medical efficacy.

Position: ASA strongly supports the reclassification of cannabis in order to expand research on this important and promising therapeutic substance and to better establish laws that reasonably, fairly and equally protect patients in the U.S. The easiest and quickest way to accomplish this is for the Obama Administration to grant the pending rescheduling petition filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis.