Biden’s change in cannabis reclassification is a game-changer

May 20, 2024
The plan to reschedule marijuana may finally end ‘Reefer Madness’

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency plans to reclassify marijuana from the most restrictive category — Schedule I, up there with heroin — down to Schedule III, in the company of testosterone and Tylenol with codeine. This does not mean that the federal government is giving its blessing to the use of cannabis as a recreational drug. However, it does recognize that there are medicinal uses for marijuana, and there are lower chances that it will be abused than highly addictive drugs.

The change in classification would be a major step toward clearing up the myths about cannabis. “Reefer Madness,” a 1936 movie intended to dissuade teens from trying marijuana, made claims of danger so outlandish that it has been widely mocked for more than half a century. At the same time, cannabis fans portray the drug as utterly mild, totally safe and a near-panacea.

What we know so far is that neither extreme has it right. The limited studies conducted up to now indicate that marijuana can help with certain conditions, such as epileptic seizures and nausea from chemotherapy. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved cannabinoid medications, though their use is highly restricted. Cannabis does not appear to be effective against glaucoma or inflammatory bowel disease, two other claims made in its favor.

We also know that hospitals have seen significant increases in emergency room visits related to marijuana use, including psychosis.

Why are there still so many unknowns instead of settled facts about a drug that has been widely consumed for medicinal and recreational use for years? Because too few studies have been conducted, and often under too restrictive conditions. The medical world needs to know much more. What forms of use are safest and most effective? What drugs might interact badly with marijuana? How much is safe? How often? At what dose? With which varieties of cannabis? What other ailments might be effectively treated with cannabinoids?

It’s ridiculous that we lack the answers, especially considering that 24 states (including California) plus the District of Columbia have made marijuana legal for adult recreational use while 14 more have approved it for medicinal use. Our ignorance is the fault of the DEA. Conducting medical trials on a Schedule I drug entails too many hoops to jump through for many researchers. In addition, the DEA has limited research to a tiny set of very weakened cannabis products, most of it from a single source, while dispensaries sell some 700 varieties.

The classification as a Schedule I substance gave marijuana a mystique, an aura of danger, that led to a rebellious embrace of it by people who experienced no immediate signs of trouble — but who also didn’t and still don’t know what is safe and effective even as a recreational drug, or the long-term ramifications. It’s time for this silliness to end.

Marijuana is just a drug, like any other drug that has some psychotropic effects. There needs to be robust research to determine its valid uses, appropriate doses and side effects. When and if the rescheduling occurs, the National Institutes of Health should fund more research and give scientists more flexibility to conduct large trials.

At the same time, the federal government should work on fixing the wild patchwork of laws that conflict with each other and with federal policy. Right now, people cannot take marijuana — unless it is one of the FDA-approved products — across state lines, even if the drug is legal in both states. It cannot be taken on a plane or in a national park, even when the park is in a state where marijuana is fully legal. And federal employees and contractors are banned from using marijuana, though it is fully legal in the District of Columbia.

The federal government’s decision to treat marijuana like heroin while many states have chosen to treat it like alcohol has led to a tangle of laws and uncertain research. Reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule III drug gives it a chance to clean up the mess.

©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.