Oregon on Wednesday became the latest state — and the first in many years — to officially reclassify marijuana from its Schedule I status as a dangerous drug with no medical value.
The Oregon Board of Pharmacy (BOP) voted 4-1 on June 16 to move cannabis to Schedule II, thereby recognizing its medical use.
The BOP decision came after months of deliberation and input from the public. The Oregon Legislature passed SB 728, which directed the BOP to reclassify marijuana to Schedule II, III, IV or V, in August 2009.
Although Oregon and 13 other states in the U.S. have legalized marijuana for medical use, it has officially remained a Schedule I substance according to the federal government. Most states defer to that federal status.
“This latest decision by a state public health and drug regulatory body to reclassify marijuana as medicine should send a clear message to the federal government,” said Caren Woodson, director of government affairs with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a medical marijuana patient advocacy organization.
“The reclassification of marijuana at the federal level is long overdue and certainly ripe for consideration,” Woodson added.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, enacted in 1970 as President Richard Nixon introduced the War On Drugs, the U.S. government placed marijuana in an erroneous Schedule I classification, which means it has a “high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value.”
Since then, several attempts have been made to reclassify cannabis at the federal level.
A petition filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis is the latest attempt, and is currently pending before the notoriously anti-pot and unresponsive Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently made its recommendations to the DEA, the final agency to review the petition. Acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, a Bush Administration drug warrior holdover who has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, is the final remaining arbiter as to the rescheduling petition’s fate.
“DEA Administrator Leonhart has a less than impressive record on medical marijuana,” Woodson said. “But, with the changing political winds on this issue, the Obama Administration has a chance to do the right thing for the hundreds of thousands of sick Americans that benefit from medical marijuana.”
So, far, only four states — Alaska, Iowa, Montana, and Tennessee — along with the District of Columbia, have classified marijuana as a therapeutic substance. But there seems to be a strong trend towards changing that.
In addition to the June 16 decision, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy recommended in February that the Legislature there reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, thereby recognizing its medical use.
“While such moves are more symbolic than practical, especially in medical marijuana states like Oregon, it does tend to reinforce the argument that marijuana has medical value,” said Kris Hermes, ASA media specialist.
By law the Oregon BOP has until June 30 to implement the new rules.