Marijuana GavelCalling laws against marijuana use complicated is an understatement. Between local medicinal laws, fifty different state laws, and federal laws and regulations, it can be hard to determine what is illegal and what is not. However, one constant has remained through the years, and that is the Drug Enforcement Agency’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I Substance, which means that it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” as well as being one of “the most dangerous drugs.”[1] Other drugs receiving the Schedule I classification include heroin and LSD.[2] By contrast, Schedule II drugs, which by definition have less potential for abuse, include cocaine and methamphetamine.[3] That seems contrary to common sense, and a federal judge has finally decided to hear evidence regarding the controversial classification.

The Daily Beast reported on a recent decision by U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller to “comb through hundreds of pages of witness testimony, scientific research, and public health policy to determine whether the Schedule I Substance classification of marijuana is unconstitutional.”[4] Judge Mueller’s decision was prompted by a footnote in the landmark 2005 Supreme Court case, Gonzales v. Raich, where Justice Stevens noted that the potential uses for marijuana as medicine would “cast serious doubt” on the need to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug.[5]

Because the United States Code deems that Schedule I drugs do not have any acceptable medical use,[6] it is difficult (not to mention illegal) for scientists to conduct meaningful research on potential medicinal uses for marijuana. Of course, not all nations classify marijuana as one of the most dangerous drugs on the planet, so some of the first serious studies about the efficacy of marijuana as a medicine were conducted internationally.[7]

This is not to say that no research has been conducted in the United States. Some of the testimony in front of Judge Mueller was from Dr. Gregory Carter who believes that marijuana can and should be used to manage pain for patients suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.[8] Dr. Carl T. Hart, of Columbia University testified that “including marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is counter to all the scientific evidence in a society that uses and values empirical evidence.”[9] Further testimony in favor of re-classification came from an Iraq War veteran, a mother of an epileptic child, and a West Virginia University professor who was a former FBI crime analyst.[10]

While Judge Mueller’s ruling would only apply to the case at hand, which involved a large growing operation in Hayfork, CA, it does signal that the tides may be turning in regards to marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug. “It’s earth-shattering to even have this hearing,” Stetson University College of Law Professor Adam Levine told The Christian Science Monitor. “The fact that the judge is willing to hear this case means she is willing to question if the DEA’s original classification is constitutional.”[11]

Perhaps common sense will prevail and Judge Mueller will determine that marijuana is not more dangerous than methamphetamine. Only time will tell, and Judge Mueller has hours of testimony and hundreds of pages of scientific research to consider, but her decision may finally allow for marijuana’s status to be determined in state legislatures rather than by ham-fisted and outdated federal regulations.

[1] http://www.justice.gov/dea/druginfo/ds.shtml
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/11/04/pot-s-day-in-court.html
[5] Gonzales v. Raich (2005) 545 U.S. 1, at p. 36, fn. 37.
[6] 21 U.S.C. § 812(b)(1)
[7] The International Cannabinoid Research Society (http://www.icrs.co/)
[8] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/11/04/pot-s-day-in-court.html
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.