The U.S. Must Create a New Schedule for Cannabis: An Open Letter the U.S. Congress

Afgooie Cannabis Now Magazine

As one who has been involved in the medical marijuana movement from literally the very beginning and who brings to this issue 40 years of perspective, I can say with certainty that we have never been at a more opportune time to effect dramatic and positive change. Everyone is aware, however, that changing the federal scheduling of marijuana is imperative and since it was the U.S Congress that placed marijuana in Schedule I in 1970, it seems time for Congress to rectify that mistake. Leaving this important decision to the current U.S. agencies charged with cannabis control — DEA, NIDA and FDA — will not satisfactorily resolve this issue and will likely lead to more confusion and chaos.

It concerns me that all scenarios now on the table attempt to rectify a colossal mistake — the placement of marijuana in Schedule I — with any equally colossal mistake — rescheduling to any of the existing schedules (II, III, IV or V).  In fact, placement of cannabis in any of the existing schedules is incorrect for the obvious reason that cannabis is not really a drug but a plant. Obviously it is a plant from which drugs can be processed but it is not, per se, a drug. Moreover, there are a multitude of products that can be created from cannabis such as nutritional products and a vast array of consumer goods.

With that in mind I would like to propose that the U.S look around at how other countries are adapting to the 21st Century with respect to cannabis policy and control. At a recent conference in Sydney, for example, I learned quite a lot about Australia’s scheduling system that is remarkably more comprehensive than that of the U.S.  It has 10 schedules with Schedule 9, “Prohibited Substances,” being the most severely restrictive. Not surprisingly, marijuana is contained in this category but Australia also allows for multi-scheduling and so cannabis also appears in Schedule 8 which contains “Controlled Drugs” and thus permits regulated production of medical cannabis products. This multi-scheduling allows for a more broad and accurate definition of substances. And Australia avoids the trap of declaring that cannabis has “no accepted medical use in treatment.” That restrictive language appears nowhere in the Australia schedules.

Congress should embrace the concept of additional schedules and, for marijuana only, create Schedule VI. With this start the U.S. could begin the process of reforming the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), create flexibility for the future, and provide a schedule in which all cannabis products — from raw plant to most extracted cannabis products (including pure extract pharmaceutical products and nutritionals) could be placed. It could provide an actual foundation for reform rather than some Band-Aid measure that is not well thought through and would require future change. It would allow proper definition of this complex and wondrous substance while providing a new opportunity to construct processes that allow open and regulated research rather than the current shackled and stifled research dictated by an agency focused only on abuse.

There are those who will argue passionately that marijuana should be descheduled entirely. I have heard these arguments for decades and, in some ways, I can support them. But in the practical world of treaties and, more importantly, consumer protection, the U.S. cannot turn its back on the need to regulate cannabis. Charlatans, shysters, and shoddy manufacturers demand that some level of protection be afforded the public when it comes to cannabis, just as it does with any natural substance that is sold to the public. Cannabis is exceptionally complex because it can be used in such a vast array of products, from nutritional supplements to medicine. Hence the need for its own Schedule classification. The current arrangement, cannabis in Schedule I, gives none of these protections. Nor will re-scheduling under the current structure help.

Congress created the Schedules and Congress should change them. It can start simply by creating Schedule VI and placing cannabis in it.

What do you think? Does creating a new Schedule for marijuana seem like a good option for reform?

Alice O’Leary-Randall is the widow of Robert C. Randall, the acknowledged founder of the medical cannabis movement. She lives in Sarasota, Florida and is a retired hospice nurse. Since retirement, she has returned to the fight for medical cannabis on many fronts. She serves as the medical cannabis ambassador for Mary’s Medicinals and on the Board of Directors for Mary's Foundation of Caring. Additionally she is on the Board of Directors for the American Cannabis Nurses Association. She is the executive editor for Mary's Cannabis Primer and a frequent contributor to Cannabis Now Magazine and Huffington Post. She is the author of two books on the medical cannabis issue. Medical Marijuana in America:Memoir of a Pioneer is an autobiography published in 2014. In 1998 she and her late husband co-authored Marijuana Rx: The Patients' Fight for Medicinal Pot.

14 Comments

  1. GKN Life

    November 25, 2016 at 2:37 am

    Good post. Just take it off the list! So many more dangerous drugs than cannabis are not on the list, like alcohol and tobacco. Why make this more complicated than it needs to be. Stop creating new law enforcement opportunities and excuses.

    • Poppi

      June 29, 2017 at 8:01 pm

      Got that right !!!

  2. Stephen Pitell

    July 11, 2016 at 8:59 am

    I also have more than 40 years of experience with marijuana, and my opinion is that the cannabis plant should be de-scheduled, but extracts, THC, and cannabidoids should be scheduled to allow for the commercialization of various products which would include recreational uses, medical uses, and fiber uses. Medical products need dosages and serious study to quantify effects. While just smoking some weed one grows ought to be entirely legal. Hemp as a fiber doesn’t need any more policing than cotton or linen.

  3. Lawrence Goodwin

    June 14, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    No more misguided laws, please, in relation to cannabis plants. For the first 150 years of United States history, no federal laws prohibited citizens from growing cannabis. Federal lawmakers have botched this issue so badly for 80 years that we have zero reason to trust them any longer. Their whole “marihuana” ban has been a fraud from Day 1. The only acceptable course of action, in my view, is to treat these cherished plants in the exact same way we treated alcohol production after Prohibition was repealed in 1933: Change the name of the federal regulator to the Bureau of Alcohol, Cannabis, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and be done with it.

  4. John Thomas

    June 14, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    From the article:

    >>>”The placement of cannabis in any of the existing schedules is incorrect for the obvious reason that cannabis is not really a drug but a plant.”

    Sorry, but that is not a very convincing argument. That leads to opponents saying poisonous mushrooms (or a thousand other things) are plants, too. That doesn’t make them safe.

    The best argument for removing marijuana from the scheduled list of drugs is that alcohol and tobacco aren’t on the list and they are FAR more harmful than marijuana.

    There is a tendency on the part of some medical marijuana advocates to pretend recreational marijuana doesn’t exist, or to act as though it’s not important. – That’s clearly wrong, fatally flawed, and leads to more half-solutions like creating a new schedule for marijuana. Randall supports this idea, saying:

    >>>”in the practical world of treaties and, more importantly, consumer protection, the U.S. cannot turn its back on the need to regulate cannabis.”

    How do alcohol and tobacco being totally off the schedule interfere with protecting consumers? – It doesn’t, of course. We have broad regulations over those two drugs and it didn’t take them being scheduled to do so.

    The bogus, oppressive “treaties” the U.S. pushed on the rest of the world deserve no consideration. They are simply another fraudulent aspect of the horrific fraud of marijuana prohibition. Countries around the world are beginning to ignore them (rightly), and we have broken them big time ourselves with the four Free States (Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska).

    The biggest problem with medical marijuana is when it’s advocates pretend recreational marijuana doesn’t exist. – On the contrary, the only reason we need a “medical marijuana” movement is because of the monstrously destructive fraud of marijuana prohibition.

    One of the founders of marijuana reform, Jack Herer, was asked if he supported medical marijuana, and he said no. – He said it would create a huge industry that would resist further legalization. – He was so right. Now we have a big problem with many in the “medical excuse” marijuana industry fighting against ending all of marijuana prohibition. – They, naturally, don’t want to end this bizarre arrangement, and insist on making the majority of their customers lie and pay money for a medical recommendation, just to get a relaxant far less harmful than Budweiser.

    No. Medical marijuana was a 90s half-solution that is wholly inadequate. – We need to follow the example of the Free States, end marijuana prohibition, and take the benign plant completely off the schedule. – No other approach makes any sense.

  5. Jack Elam

    June 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Your idea of of creating a new schedule for marijuana is interesting because it points out the unique treatment that marijuana has been given in the federal scheduling scheme. Before marijuana can be rescheduled, however, its definition in the Controlled Substances Act must be reformed. A respectful-of-the-Constitution reform will de-schedule the cannabis plant.

    The current definition is complicated, confusing, circumlocutory, and allows for the common conflation that marijuana is the cannabis plant. The cannabis plant is considered to be the marijuana plant due to the intended misunderstanding of what that definition means. The cannabis plant is “the marijuana plant” only in the sense that marijuana is derived from cannabis. That sense can be actually declared, and that declaration will not be confusing, nor complicated, nor circumlocutory. Only after that definition is reformed, can marijuana then be rescheduled. By reforming that definition, the versatile cannabis plant could also be known as “the paper plant”, “the clothing plant”, “the renewable fuel plant”, “the anti-cancer plant” “the anti-epilepsy plant”, “the nutrition plant”, “the wellness plant”, and by its many other uses.

    In the first 4 words of the current federal definition, “marihuana” is specified to be a “term” with a defined meaning. The meaning of that definition is where the problem lies. That definition has a format which strategically allows for two interpretations. The familiar interpretation, used by federal agencies, is the Literal Interpretation. It is the Literal Interpretation which is causing all of the problems related to cannabis. The secret interpretation, used by the Courts, is the Holistic Interpretation. The Holistic Interpretation is, with its singular meaning, the one which conforms to the instructions provided by the Constitution. It has been kept secret from the People, and at our expense, to benefit the agencies of government, and other “persons”.

    The current federal definition of marijuana states that Cannabis sativa L. is the plant, so marijuana is not a plant. That definition does not mention THC, so marijuana is not THC. Many people then fall back to the reasoning that since Schedule 1 is for a “drug or other substance”, by deduction, marijuana is a therefore a drug. Look at that definition of marijuana. It is not the definition of a drug, it is the definition of an “other substance”, which many people disparage. That substance is cannabis smoke. Marijuana smoke is exactly the same thing as cannabis smoke. A direct format for the definition of marijuana will make that meaning clearly and distinctly recognizable. It is the current marijuana law, and the THC, which makes smoking marijuana, to prove the error of its definition, such a tempting action. It doesn’t have to be this way.

    This proposed reform of that definition will make it finally comply with the intent of the Necessary and Proper clause, it will restore the formerly accepted right to grow and reasonably use the cannabis plant by the People according to the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, it will restore the protection of the Supremacy clause to the people who do grow and reasonably use the cannabis plant, rather than victimize them by it, and it will preserve, by stating, the constitutionally valid prohibitions which currently subsist within the current definition:

    Sec.802.(16). The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L. which is prohibited to be grown by or sold by any publicly traded corporation or subsidiary company.

    The current formulation of the federal definition of marijuana is the genesis for the Big Lie that sustains the war on drugs. By enacting this simple reform of that definition, without rescheduling it, much of that war-mongering sustenance can be redirected to better uses, and the Constitution will again be upheld as the inspiring document that the People once knew before the Big Lie debased it with its contemptuous-of-the-Constitution definition of “marihuana”. This year is a good time to implement this reform which upholds our Constitution.

    You cam see the genesis for Big Lie here:
    http://www.fda.gov/regulatoryinformation/legislation/ucm148726.htm

    If, as you suggest, a new federal Schedule 6 is created for marijuana, it could be for substances that the federal government has relegated control of to the States, in a manner similar to the 21st Amendment. There is also at least one other commonly abused substance which could be added to that Schedule: gunpowder.

    • Alice O'Leary-Randalll

      June 14, 2016 at 7:37 am

      Thanks for the reply Jack. Lots of good thoughts in there but I was particularly taken with the final paragraph. Food for thought.

    • Martha

      June 29, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      no kidding. thank you for the precise and intelligent discussion. I agree whole heartedly.

  6. Kim Novak

    June 12, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Respectfully, NO MORE SCHEDULING FOR THIS PLANT! It needs to be completely removed from ANY list. The U.S. CAN turn its back on the need to regulate cannabis. The U.S. CAN choose to allow it’s citizens to heal themselves, it just won’t because it’s easier to continue receiving kickbacks from big pharma, the tobacco industry and the alcohol industry. Oh yes, don’t forget the prison system. Plain and simple. WE know the truth. It’s time that journalists fess up and tell the it. Otherwise, you’re just a paid voice for the establishment.

  7. Tony Rooney, Ph.D.

    June 11, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    Without (a LOT) more information, I don’t see how we can possibly judge whether this is a good idea or not. Personally, I am very suspect in regard to how MORE (and more complicated) legislation can possibly be anything but a new level of clusterf#ck.

    First of all, such legislation could mean YEARS of infighting between competing lobbyists and the idiots they lobby.

    Secondly, tell me ONE way ADDITIONAL legislation can be a “better” solution to rectifying the original wrong of putting cannabis on the schedule of controlled substances than simply taking it OFF that schedule. [Seriously — what are the possible advantages?]

    OF COURSE cannabis needs SOME kind of regulation — but why should the regulations governing this inherently benign (if not downright beneficent) substance be anything more complicated (or otherwise cumbersome) than the regulations that currently apply to alcohol and tobacco (two substances that are — hands down — FAR more dangerous and addictive than cannabis)?

    And why would we want to leave the creation of such regulation to the very greed-and-ignorance-driven scumbags who brought us “schedule I” in the first place?

    I have deep respect for Ms. O’Leary-Randall’s decades of practical experience and passionate “boots on the ground” activism. But (at least without more specific information) the idea of “schedule 6” looks to me like an invitation for a feeding frenzy by lobbyists (and other self-important dullards) that will only FURTHER delay true legalization — and create a NEW web of idiotic regulations in the meantime that everyone can fight about for years to come.

    Help me out — what am I missing here that makes this a “good idea”??

    • Rod is on the gas

      June 13, 2016 at 9:16 am

      Alice and Hillary are the only people who think the scheduling argument is anything except an illusion. It’s a cop-out.

      I believe a US Constitutional Amendment providing “the right” to choose cannabis lifestyle is the only change necessary.

    • Alice O'Leary-Randalll

      June 14, 2016 at 7:35 am

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks very much for such a reasoned reply. I appreciate your points.

      As you probably know, the “schedule” concept is based on the international treaties that govern cannabis and other drugs. When it comes to cannabis I don’t like the schedules any more than you do but they exist and most in government will say they are mandated by our treaty obligations. And while it is all well and good to say “Screw the treaties” that is not exactly governance. I simply cannot see the federal government defying international treaties to de-schedule cannabis. Talk about a lobbyists field day.

      The creation of a new schedule could go a long way towards properly defining cannabis. This is not MORE or ADDITIONAL legislation, this is a reform of existing regulations.

  8. Gina Garcia

    June 11, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    The only thing that makes sense now.. is to DESCHEDULE IT ALREADY.

  9. John Novak

    June 11, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    Just take it off the list! So many more dangerous drugs than cannabis are not on the list, like alcohol and tobacco. Why make this more complicated than it needs to be. Stop creating new law enforcement opportunities and loopholes.

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