Barack Obama’s stance on marijuana and the laws surrounding it have been fairly consistent over his eight years in office. More recently, in an “exit interview”, he said that treating marijuana use as a public-health issue like they do cigarettes or alcohol is a much smarter way to address its legality. Before we look at the implications of reclassifying marijuana among alcohol or cigarettes, however, let’s take a look at drug schedules.
What are Drug Schedules?
You can classify drugs, substances, and chemicals that people or companies use to make them into five categories – or schedules. These schedules represent the different levels of a drug’s acceptable medical use and how high or low the potential is for abuse or dependency. For example, Schedule I drugs are extremely likely to result in abuse or dependence, whereas Schedule V drugs have the least potential for abuse.
The Schedules and Their Drugs
(This list is a general reference and is not a comprehensive listing of all controlled substances.)
I drugs currently have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse (e.g., heroin, LSD, ecstasy, peyote, and marijuana/cannabis).
II drugs have a potential for abuse which can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence (e.g., cocaine, methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl, Adderall, and Ritalin).
III drugs have a moderate to low potential for psychological and physical dependence (e.g., ketamine, anabolic steroids, testosterone, and Tylenol with codeine).
IV drugs have a low potential for abuse and a low risk of dependence (e.g., Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Ambien).
V drugs have a lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and contain limited quantities of certain narcotics (e.g., cough syrups contains small amounts of codeine like Robitussin; Lomotil, Motofen, and Lyrica).
Obama’s Stance on Marijuana
Obama said, in a 2014 interview with the New Yorker, that marijuana is less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”
In a 2016 interview with Bill Maher, Obama acknowledged that “there is this enormous public health effort to get kids to not start smoking. And make sure the parents felt guilty if they were passing on that habit with their kids. So, that’s where I think we need to go with pot, [smoking, and] alcohol.”
When Jann S. Wenner of Rolling Stone asked Obama why America is “still dancing around the subject and making marijuana equivalent to a Schedule I drug,” Obama held steadfast in his “belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse.”
He also highlighted that the presidential edict does not change the country’s drug classifications. Rather, these classifications happen through a legislative process or through the DEA.
While Obama’s second term hasn’t made much effort to change the current federal prohibition on marijuana – a reality that complicates the process of creating a legal nationwide marijuana industry – Obama did hint that as a private citizen, “[he] will have the opportunity…to describe where [he] thinks we need to go” on marijuana.
The Implications of Reclassifying Marijuana
It’s important to make note of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA regulates how people and corporations can use, produce, and sell both legal and illegal drugs in the U.S. Interestingly, the CSA does not regulate alcohol and tobacco. Because of this, comparisons of marijuana to socially acceptable drugs further complicates the issue.
Marijuana is a Schedule I drug, but on what basis? According to the DEA’s criteria, marijuana must have:
A high potential for abuse
No accepted medical use in treatments
A lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision
Observing marijuana beside other drugs such as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy may seem almost humorous to some. How can someone compare the psychological and physical effects of heroin to those of marijuana? These are the kinds of thoughts that continue to trouble many Americans.
Yes, marijuana does have an addictive quality and can affect some individuals more than others. Some studies reveal that smoking it may even double the risk of heart disease or result in memory loss. On the other hand, however, marijuana seems to have tons of medicinal uses, including reduced anxiety.
This simple question doesn’t have a simple answer, especially with the DEA’s recent refusal to loosen marijuana restrictions. In the meantime, those in power should support studies that explore the potential harms and benefits of marijuana use.