Moving Marijuana


For decades the Drug Enforcement Administration has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug–meaning, among other things, that it has "a high potential for abuse." The basis for that claim is the DEA's insistence that any unapproved drug use constitutes abuse. Since Schedule I drugs are, by definition, not approved for any use, marijuana prohibition seems to be self-perpetuating.

But maybe not. In January the DEA revealed that it had asked the Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate a petition seeking the reclassification of marijuana, which would lift the blanket ban and make the drug available for research and medical use.

The petition (available at www.natlnorml.org/activist/gettman) was submitted in July 1995 by Jon Gettman, a former director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, who is now a doctoral student in public policy at George Mason University. He argues that marijuana does not belong in Schedule I because it does not have "a high potential for abuse" under any reasonable interpretation of that phrase.

In a July 1995 letter to Gettman, DEA Deputy Administrator Stephen Greene said the agency would refer his petition to HHS if there seemed to be "sufficient grounds" and that the department's recommendation "shall be binding on DEA as to medical and scientific findings." After HHS completes its evaluation in a year or two, the DEA could propose a rule to change marijuana's legal status.

Gettman says he hopes HHS will conduct an impartial, scientific review. Since Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala has repeatedly condemned marijuana as "illegal, dangerous, unhealthy, and wrong," that is by no means assured.