What Would Happen If Cannabis is Changed to Schedule 2?

Would this change help push legalization forward?

a person holds out both of their hands, one with marijuana and one with a handful of pills Photo Credit: Shutterstock

As ridiculous as it seems in the year 2022, cannabis is still federally considered a Schedule 1 drug, having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Given that 38 individual states have passed laws recognizing marijuana as a medical treatment since the previous millennium, this stance seems extra suspect. 

Both Republican and Democratic administrations have failed to completely deschedule marijuana like they have with hemp or even decriminalize it. However, there have been attempts for some type of compromise. One being considered is rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug.  

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So, how would things change with cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug? What positive and negative effects would this have? And is pushing to consider cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug worth it?

Join WikiLeaf as we delve into these issues, starting with how marijuana ended up as a Schedule 1 drug in the first place.

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Marijuana and the Controlled Substances Act

Cannabis was made functionally illegal in 1937 despite doctors at the time saying it had medical uses. Thirty-three years later, Richard Nixon passed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and listed marijuana a Schedule 1 drug in order to legally punish his perceived enemies (anti-war liberals and African Americans) and turn the public against them. As his former aid John Ehrlichman would later admit “ [by] criminalizing [marijuana] heavily, we could…arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”   

a bundle of dried cannabis next to a police “evidence” sticker

Marijuana remains a schedule 1 drug after Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs, vilifying cannabis use. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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Despite this public admission, over three decades of medical marijuana laws, and the fact that it’s considered medically impossible to overdose on marijuana, it remains a Schedule 1 drug up to this day. This affects federal drug sentencing guidelines, banking regulations, and medical research. In contrast, Schedule 2 drugs like Synthetic opioids (including fentanyl) caused 56,516 overdose deaths in 2020 alone and ruined countless more lives through addiction

Yet, listing cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug might not make things much better, and could potentially make things worse. 

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Benefits of Cannabis as Schedule 2 Drug

Schedule 2 drugs like cocaine, oxycontin, and adderall are still considered to have “a high potential for abuse” as well as mental and physical addiction. However, they also may have some medical benefit, which means they can be researched using federal funds, and approved for prescription by the FDA. 

Listing cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug would lower some of the bureaucratic hurdles to federal research. The vast majority of federal cannabis research is currently being done at one farm in Mississippi. Though that is slowly changing as more research is permitted, with cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug, a greater number of researchers would be able to receive more funding for more studies much faster, and gain access to different strains from different suppliers. 

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a person wearing a white lab coat and blue latex gloves holds a clipboard in front of growing cannabis plants

Schedule 2 classification could help increase access to cannabis research, though it would likely not help push forward federal cannabis legalization. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

However, according to the Brookings Institute, listing cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug will not be the change many would imagine. A stack of research papers all titled “Marijuana Has Medical Benefits, and Should Be Federally Legalized (Duh)” will not be placed on every politician’s desk, leading them to unanimously pass the “Whoops (Our Bad)” Law that legalizes weed federally.

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Instead, cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug might result in the FDA possibly approving some type of synthetic, THC-based pharmaceutical treatment years down the line that may or may not be as effective as current forms of medical cannabis.    

Banking and Cannabis as a Schedule 2 Drug

One would hope listing cannabis as a Schedule 2 Drug might at least change banking regulations, giving marijuana businesses access to federal credit. After all, the makers of Schedule 2 drugs like Oxycontin and Adderall have access to banking, stock market trading, and interstate commerce. 

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We reached out to Paul Armentano, The Deputy Director and scientific expert at NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). According to Paul “Reclassifying cannabis from Schedule 1, like heroin, to Schedule 2, like cocaine, would not address the existing state/federal conflict…States do not have the legal flexibility or authority to establish their own regulatory policies on Schedule 2 substances.”

Only the FDA can approve a Schedule 2 drug, which can only be obtained at a licensed pharmacy with a prescription. Because of this, every state’s current marijuana laws wouldn’t meet Schedule 2’s drug requirements.

“In short, I would not predict that rescheduling alone would permit banking access to these state-licensed entities because their activities would still be in violation of federal law.”

Downsides of Cannabis as a Schedule 2 Drug

According to Morgan Fox, NORML’s Political Director, listing cannabis as a Schedule 2 Drug would cause more harm than good. Recreational cannabis would be unaffected, but “Every state would need to completely rework their medical marijuana system…at insane costs to the state…Every state dispensary, and every associated business, would have to apply for a pharmacy license as well as (notoriously uncooperative) DEA approval to be in compliance. “There’s no net benefit [to listing cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug] and in fact it would slow everything down at the federal level.”  

Descheduling Cannabis is The Answer

Instead of listing cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug, a compromise that helps basically no one and reverses progress, NORML and many others argue that cannabis should simply be descheduled, meaning it is removed from the Controlled Substances Act altogether and regulated more like alcohol or tobacco. This would give cannabis businesses access to federal credit and banking, open up private research opportunities with federal oversight, and still retain the rights of states to control their own cannabis laws. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Difference Between a Schedule 1 and 2 Drug?

A Schedule 1 drug (like heroin or cannabis) has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” and are all federally illegal. A Schedule 2 drug (like cocaine or oxycontin) has “a high potential for abuse…potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence,” but some accepted medical use. If they’re FDA approved, they can be legally possessed via a valid prescription and obtained at a pharmacy.

Is Cannabis Completely Legal in Canada?

Cannabis is federally legal in Canada, which means it can be possessed and purchased from licensed distributors based on limits set by each province. Cannabis companies also have access to federal credit and can be listed on the stock exchange. However, it’s still illegal to grow or purchase it if you’re underage or unlicensed.  

What’s the Difference Between a Schedule 2 and 3 Drug?

A Schedule 2 drug (like cocaine or oxycontin) has “a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence,” but some accepted medical use. If they’re FDA approved, they can be legally possessed via a valid prescription and obtained at a pharmacy

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A Schedule 3 drug (like ketamine or anabolic steroids) have a “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” but still require a prescription.

What are the 4 Types of Drugs?

Depressants (Alcohol, Marijuana, etc.), Stimulants (Cocaine, Meth, etc.), Hallucinogens (LSD, Mushrooms, etc.), and Opioids (Heroin, Oxycontin, etc.) 

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