Change in Marijuana Scheduling Was Long Overdue

The decision by the Biden administration last week to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug came as welcome (though long overdue) news for all Americans who have been aware for decades of the absurdity and injustice of that classification.

Marijuana became classified as a Schedule I drug, reserved for dangerous drugs such as heroin and LSD, during the administration of President Richard M. Nixon in 1970. Research into Nixon’s presidential papers about 10 years ago revealed that Nixon’s sole motivation for doing so was to provide a pretext to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate Black and brown Americans, whom Nixon saw as political opponents during a time of political upheaval in our country.

That Nixonian policy of the past five decades has resulted in a disgraceful legacy of vast discrepancies in the enforcement of the drug laws by law enforcement at all levels, federal, state and local, to target Black and brown Americans at rates far greater than whites.

Countless lives — and families — in minority communities have been ruined because of racially-selective enforcement policies regarding the laws on marijuana.

Marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug never had any basis in medical fact. Compared to just about any drug, both legal and illegal, marijuana has the least amount of harm and side-effects. No one ever has died from a marijuana overdose. By contrast,  almost all commonly-available, over-the-counter drugs can cause a fatal overdose. (Even plain-old water can kill you if you drink too much of it.)

In addition, the common perception of marijuana as a so-called gateway drug, which became fashionable during the era of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign, was a myth. The only correlation that ever has been shown between a drug used early in life and hard-drug use later in life has been between cigarettes and opioid addiction.

On the other hand, we wish to emphasize strongly that marijuana should not be used by those under the age of 21, for whom marijuana use can have a lasting and deleterious effect on the still-developing human brain. (The same also can be said for nicotine, alcohol, high-sugar drinks, and ultra-processed foods.)

Hopefully, now that marijuana will be classified as a Schedule III drug (which is defined as a drug with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence, such as Tylenol with codeine), researchers in this country finally will be able to unlock how it affects the human body, which has THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) receptors throughout.

THC already has been shown to have a number of possible therapeutic uses, including treatment for glaucoma, pain, depression, and  nausea for those undergoing chemotherapy. 

Lastly, government regulation will ensure that dosage amounts are accurately labeled on available products. Just as alcohol content is indicated on beer, wine, and hard liquor, marijuana products, especially edibles, need to be labeled to provide consumers with needed-information about the potency of what they’re ingesting.

The rescheduling of marijuana by the federal government is 50 years too late. But, as the saying goes, it’s better late than never.

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