The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) earlier this year shot down any hopes of marijuana being downgraded from its status as a Schedule I narcotic, which it’s been since President Nixon passed the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970’s. For the time being, it remains inanely classified in the same category as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and peyote.
As of now the DEA schedules drugs based on three criteria: their potential for abuse and addiction, whether or not they have any accepted medical use, and whether or not there are standardized safety protocols for using the drug. Thus, in the eyes of the federal government, marijuana is a ‘highly addictive drug with zero medical benefits’.
This judgment is naive – if not entirely oblivious – and is in direct contradiction to the opinion of the majority of American citizens, as well as to the legislation of half the states in the country, where marijuana is now legally recognized as a medicine. It seems the benefits and medical potential of cannabis are common knowledge to everyone but the DEA and the federal government.
Of course, this presents a logistical, ethical and moral conundrum to marijuana users, businesses, and research scientists who advocate for the drug. It also merits the question of whether something larger and more sinister might be at play: if everyone but the federal government is willing to recognize the medical potential of cannabis, what might be going on behind closed doors in Washington to keep it on the list of the most tightly regulated drugs in the country?
Does ‘Big-Pharma’ have a hand in government regulation of marijuana?
The DEA’s justification of maintaining cannabis as Schedule I is that the drug currently has ‘no scientifically proven medical value’. Those are the words used by the Administration to state its formal position on marijuana1. Furthermore, it’s considered a dangerous and addictive drug because of its ‘high potential for abuse’.
The rebuttal of cannabis advocates is that, according to this logic, why isn’t alcohol listed as Schedule I? Or caffeine? Or tobacco, for that matter? Couldn’t all of these drugs be described as having widespread recreational use and a ‘high potential for abuse/addiction’? Where’s the scientific evidence showing the medical benefits of alcohol?
Before we get all hot and bothered with anti-establishment rhetoric and conspiracy theories, common sense of course does tell us that marijuana has drastically more intense psychoactive effects than any of these aforementioned drugs. However, a crucial point of consideration is that drug effects are not factored into the DEA’s scheduling guidelines.
If it’s scientifically proven medical value that’s needed to get cannabis off the Schedule I list, there’s more than enough of that out there. Also, more and more studies are popping up and more scientists and physicians2 are coming forward to affirm the wide-ranging medicinal potential of the drug.
However, the DEA is a veritable roadblock to any serious advancements in large scale research; the fact that marijuana is listed under Schedule I makes it very difficult for scientists to gain clearance and access to, not to mention funding for. Until the drug is re-scheduled, its full potential as a medicine will not be known.
For some, this brings to mind two words: pharmaceutical industry. If the medicinal benefits of cannabis do come to fruition in terms of federal legislation, ‘Big-Pharma’ stands to lose a lot of money — a LOT of money.
A recent study3 published in Drug and Alcohol Review showed that over 86% of medical patients were able to eliminate one or more of their pharmaceutical prescriptions and replace them effectively with some form of cannabis. Moreover, the fact that marijuana is an all-natural, non-toxic drug with far less side-effects than harsh pharmaceutics makes it all the more appealing.
What are some of the big-name drugs that would take a hit if marijuana was legalized?
How about every prescription opioid painkiller on the market. Vicodin (one of the most commonly abused drugs in the U.S.), Percocet, and Oxycontin are just a few of the heavy-hitters that would surely see reductions in demand if cannabis were introduced as a competitor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 44 U.S. citizens die each day
4 from prescription opioid overdose, whereas marijuana has shown to be virtually impossible to overdose on.
Additionally, cannabis has proven to be an effective medication for insomnia/sleep aid (Ambien, Lunesta), anxiety relief (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium), and depression (Zoloft, Cymbalta, Prozac).
The pharmaceutical industry’s profit margin is higher than any other industry on the planet; consider the millions these companies would stand to lose if medicinal cannabis were readily available and marketed to patients.
While we certainly aren’t ones to endorse any scandalous, brazen conspiracy theories, it no doubt begs to wonder whether or not the pharmaceutical industry – and its trillions of dollars – may be lobbying in Washington to ensure marijuana stays locked in place as a Schedule I illegal narcotic.
Responsibility and Ethics of Marijuana Use
All of this creates quite the moral conundrum for cannabis advocates. With 25 states now legally recognizing the drug as a medicine, thousands of businesses and countless thousands more individuals are relying on marijuana everyday for their prosperity, livelihood, and overall well-being.
It really is becoming an unprecedented matter of ethics; if the state you live in has accepted and recognized the medicinal value of cannabis, users and advocates should not have to bear the social burden and cumbersome moral responsibilities that come along with using the drug – not to mention be at risk of federal prosecution. Productive citizens should not have to face scorn and contempt from their peers, neighbors, or colleagues for using a natural remedy that’s received virtually nothing over the decades but baseless ridicule and derision.
All we can really hope, ask, and work for is the opportunity for cannabis to be studied in more detail, and be more readily available to patients who could benefit from it. However enjoyable it might be, there’s not a pressing, undying need to go home and get stoned off your rocker. The true value of marijuana lies in its potential as a medicine, and this is not something that should be neglected, misconstrued, or undervalued.
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