Because We Say So

Thousands of people in 16 U.S. states and in the District of Columbia take a prescribed drug that has no “currently accepted medical use,” according to a recent government ruling.

If the medication involved were a typical blood pressure pill or arthritis treatment, this sort of pronouncement would come from the Food and Drug Administration, which is charged with determining whether medications are safe and effective. But the drug is cannabis, and the ruling came from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

When Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, it listed marijuana as a Schedule I drug, a category that includes substances with a high potential for abuse and no medical applications. Since then, marijuana’s Schedule I status has been regularly contested by groups and by individuals. The recent DEA decision was in response to a petition originally filed around nine years ago. (Explaining the delay, Barbara Carreno, a spokeswoman for the DEA, told the Los Angeles Times, “The regulatory process is just a time-consuming one that usually takes years to go through.” (1) ) The classification is significant because Schedule I drugs, such as heroin, are illegal for all use.

The DEA defended marijuana’s current classification by citing a lack of scientific studies proving its medical utility. But, as critics of the decision have been quick to point out, one of the major reasons marijuana has not been studied more extensively is because of its Schedule I classification. For the medical community to establish “a