What schedule is marijuana? DEA Schedule 1 drugs and why classifications matter

Partygoers smoke marijuana during a Prohibition-era themed New Year's Eve party at a bar in Denver, celebrating the start of retail pot sales.
Source: Brennan Linsley/AP
Partygoers smoke marijuana during a Prohibition-era themed New Year's Eve party at a bar in Denver, celebrating the start of retail pot sales.
Source: Brennan Linsley/AP

Yes, marijuana is still on the Drug Enforcement Administration's list of scheduled drugs. Right at the very top, in fact.

With so many states legalizing weed for medicinal and recreational purposes in the past few years, you might think that federal law would start to catch up. Yet cannabis hasn't budged from Schedule I, the DEA's most serious category of illegal substances. That puts it alongside heroin, ecstasy, LSD, peyote, and Quaaludes as a drug "with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." 

Schedule II drugs, which are considered less dangerous in this tightly controlled hierarchy, include cocaine, meth and oxycodone.

Since 1972, two years after President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act and established these federal designations, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and others have petitioned the government to reclassify marijuana "as a Schedule II drug so that physicians could legally prescribe it." 

But the DEA has repeatedly rejected the very idea of marijuana as medically viable, and did so again in August 2016. This time, the bid to alter marijuana's scheduled status was led by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, both Democrats, as well as New Mexico nurse practitioner Bryan Krumm. In denying their petition, DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg cited the Food and Drug Administration's conclusions on pot's medical applications as the basis for the ruling.  

"This decision isn't based on danger," he said, according to NPR. "This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine, and it's not." 

Much to the annoyance of marijuana advocates, the DEA has even specified that the weed extract cannabidiol (CBD), a compound that doesn't get you high and shows great medicinal promise, is also Schedule I — this despite their efforts to differentiate it from marijuana with "an internal accounting mechanism" to regulate research.

So, while more than half the country enjoys state-sanctioned pot, they remain in direct contravention of a federal law. President Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has attacked both the FBI and the Obama administration for failing to enforce that prohibition, and is now posed to sow chaos with mass arrests of legal growers and retailers.

Which could, you know, really harsh your buzz. 

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Miles Klee

Author of the novel Ivyland and the story collection True False. Words in Electric Literature, Lapham's Quarterly, Vanity Fair, The Awl, Guernica, Motherboard, Vulture, McSweeney's and elsewhere. Probably eating tacos right now.

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