Marijuana’s Increasingly Flimsy Status as a Schedule I Drug and the Possibility of Donald Trump Making a Bold Move
“Fortune favors the bold.”—Virgil
As the truth about the health benefits of cannabis continues to unfold, it has become increasingly difficult to comprehend why President Obama has repeatedly failed to reschedule marijuana. Despite his own admission that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, he has consistently deferred to Congress rather than taking action to reschedule marijuana himself.
Last week the U.S. National Academy of Sciences—established by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to provide “independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology”—published a landmark report on the health effects of marijuana, adding yet another level of hypocrisy to the government’s lack of willingness to act.
What is it that has prevented marijuana from being rescheduled? And what is the likelihood that Donald Trump will have the courage and political will to overturn the increasingly senseless status quo?
Hypocrisy to the Point of Absurdity
The federal government continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance—alongside heroin, ecstasy, and LSD. According to the Controlled Substances Act, signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, this means that marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use.”
But does anyone in the U.S. government honestly believe that cannabis has no medical use? Or is pot being used as a ploy to maintain the political and economic interests of certain special interest groups and powerful politicians in Washington D.C.?
Let’s look at some of the key facts:
- First, despite marijuana’s Schedule I status, the U.S. government itself owns a patent on cannabis (# 6630507), issued by the USPTO in 2001, which clearly states the medical value of the marijuana plant:
“The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”
- Second, despite marijuana’s Schedule I status, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memorandum entitled Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement on August 29, 2013. Known as the “Cole Memo,” the document essentially allows the states to continue to operate their medical marijuana programs as they see fit, and without threat of federal interference, enforcement, or prosecution provided those state laws— and the effective implementation of said laws—remain within a specific set of parameters as outlined in the memo.
- Third, despite marijuana’s Schedule I status, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Rohrabacher– Farr medical marijuana amendment (219 to 189) on May 30, 2014, which effectively prohibits the Department of Justice (which includes the FBI, the DEA, and the ATF) from using funds to interfere with the implementation of any state’s medical marijuana laws. The amendment has now been reauthorized twice, with steadily increasing Republican support.
- Fourth, despite marijuana’s Schedule I status, a whopping 45 states now have some form of marijuana legalization on the books (8-recreational, 20-medical, with an additional 17 states that have “limited” medical marijuana—low THC, high CBD for a limited number of medical situations). In fact, the specific medical conditions listed under the 17 “limited access” states is itself a source of compelling evidence for the medical value of marijuana.
- Finally, despite marijuana’s Schedule I status, last week’s landmark report from the National Academy of Sciences, a 400-page analysis of the current research into medical marijuana entitled “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids,” concluded that marijuana does in fact have significant evidence to support its use as medicine for certain, specific conditions. In fact, the report acknowledged that there are a number of other potential medical uses for cannabis—areas that show promise in treating various conditions or diseases, but which have not yet been adequately, rigorously researched. Unfortunately, the authors conclude, “the designation of cannabis as a Schedule I substance imposes numerous regulatory barriers that limit access to the funding and material resources necessary to conduct cannabis research.”
Clearly, there is extensive support for the medical use of marijuana throughout the government and, indeed, an increasing number of judicial decisions across the country. And, yet, marijuana’s bogus and contradictory status as a Schedule I drug continues to stand.
What is the New President’s Position on Marijuana as Medicine?
Whatever hesitation President Obama has had about rescheduling or decriminalizing marijuana, his successor is clearly operating according to his own set of rules.
But what are Trump’s views on cannabis? And given that he frequently changes his position on the issues, does anyone really know what Trump thinks about marijuana as medicine?
It’s true that Donald Trump appears to have altered his position on the legalization of drugs. However, a review of his public statements over the last three decades also reveals two areas where Trump has been fairly consistent: First, Trump has repeatedly expressed his support for states’ rights. Even at CPAC, with Sean Hannity moderating, where Trump adopted a more pessimistic position on the success of legalization in Colorado, he nevertheless concluded, “If they vote for it, they vote for it.”
Furthermore, in retrospect, it appears that Trump’s concern with Colorado was around the implementation of the state’s marijuana laws, not whether he should feel free to trample on states’ rights. It is also worth remembering that there was some misleading data on the success of legalization that was coming out of Colorado at the time.
What’s more, beyond his consistent remarks around states’ rights, the area where Trump has been surprisingly consistent over the years is in regards to medical marijuana. In fact, looking back over Trump’s public statements over the last few years, one could argue that Donald Trump has himself been making the case for rescheduling marijuana. It is unlikely that Trump would take any other additional steps to legalize recreational marijuana— preferring to leave that up to the individual states. But a close reading of his many, consistent public statements leads one to conclude that he believes the barriers to medical marijuana should be removed. Indeed, on numerous occasions, Trump has said that he is “100 percent” in favor of medical marijuana. At an October 2015 rally in Reno, for example, Trump said,
“The marijuana thing is such a big, such a big thing, I think medical should happen, right? Don’t we agree? I mean, I think so. And then I really believe you should leave it up to the states. It should be a state situation. Because you know, you have, like I just left Colorado, and I love Colorado and the people are great, but there’s a question as to how it’s all working out there, you know? That’s not going exactly trouble-free. So I really think that we should study Colorado, see what’s happening, but I believe the legalization of marijuana—other than for medical, because I think medical, I know people that are very, very sick and for whatever reason, the marijuana really helps them—really helps them, but, but I think, in terms of marijuana, and legalization, I think that should be a state issue.”
When Trump was asked about marijuana legalization on “Fox and Friends” in November 2015, he once again made the case for the legalization of medical marijuana:
“I think it’s a state by state issue, Anna. I think very strongly it’s a state by state. It’s in Colorado now and they’re having certain questions about it. Is it having an impact on people’s health, on brain powers, et cetera, so they really are having an issue. But let them look at that issue and others are looking at it as you know it was just rejected in Ohio, which was a ridiculous referendum because it gave one company a monopoly on the whole state which was crazy, but frankly, I think it’s a state by state — as far as medical marijuana, I would say that’s something we should really consider strongly because people are sick and it does have a huge impact on a lot of people. And people have said it has a huge impact on the pain and suffering they have to go through. So for medical that’s one thing, but for the rest I think that should be state by state.”
Finally, on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor,” even after Bill O’Reilly pushed back on Trump’s position, he again made the case for medical marijuana in the following exchange:
TRUMP: “I would really want to think about that one, Bill. Because in some ways I think it’s good and in other ways it’s bad. I do want to see what the medical effects are. I have to see what the medical effects are and, by the way — medical marijuana, medical? I’m in favor of it a hundred percent. But what you are talking about, perhaps not. It’s causing a lot of problems out there.” O’REILLY: “But you know the medical marijuana thing is a ruse that I have a headache and I need, you know, two pounds of marijuana.” TRUMP: “But I know people that have serious problems and they did that they really—it really does help them.”
In essence, the surprisingly consistent message from Trump is perfectly congruent with rescheduling marijuana. It would allow those who are suffering to have easier access to the medicine they need, without threat of federal intervention, while, at the same time, allowing the individual states to regulate cannabis as they see fit.
Okay. But what about Trump’s cabinet picks?
The Power and Influence of the President’s Cabinet
At least three of Trump’s cabinet nominees have, at one time or another, made public statements against marijuana. Of particular concern here is his Attorney General nominee, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, but also his (current) nominee for Health and Human Services, Congressman Tom Price (R-GA).
Is it possible that Trump has covert plans to crack down on marijuana? Or could he be persuaded, or even pushed, by his own cabinet, and turn against marijuana? Not likely. Of course, if we’ve learned anything from 2016, it’s that anything is possible.
But the key thing to remember here is that these people are about to enter a new relationship with “The Donald.” For all practical intents and purposes, Trump now sees these people as his employees. And as much as they may try to change his mind (as countless other powerful people have tried and failed to do), they will not be operating according to their own purpose and plans.
In fact, this message has already been loudly and clearly broadcast by both Trump and members of his transition team. When, for example, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked on Fox’s “Outnumbered” about marijuana and the hard-line stance that Senator Sessions has taken in the past, and how that is at odds with Trump’s support of medical marijuana and states’ rights, Spicer said emphatically:
“I just want to make sure everybody understands: When you come into a Trump administration, it’s the Trump agenda that you are implementing—not your own. And I think that Senator Sessions is well aware of that.”
Does Trump Have the Courage and Will?
Frankly, given the American people’s overwhelming support for medical marijuana (89% according to a Quinnipiac poll ), not a whole lot of courage is required. Of course, it will be a big (and welcome) change. And there are plenty of powerful people and groups who are against legalizing pot. But Trump likes to shake things up. And given the tremendous benefits cannabis continues to have on the health of millions of Americans, it’s not hard to imagine that President Trump could very well be the one to finally reschedule marijuana.
It is worth noting that rescheduling marijuana doesn’t necessarily depend on Donald Trump. In fact, given that the march toward the legalization of marijuana is strongest with the American people, perhaps it will be the United States Congress that will finally feel enough constituent pressure to pull the trigger. Indeed, according to Decode DC, plans are already in place to launch a bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus in 2017.