Congress marijuana

(Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant/TNS)

U.S. Rep. Don Young co-authored a letter to President Biden urging him to remove cannabis as a Schedule I drug to make it more accessible for research and medical use.

Schedule I drugs are defined under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act as having no accepted medical use and carrying a high risk of harm and abuse. In addition to cannabis, heroin and LSD are Schedule I drugs. 

Describing the federal ban on marijuana as a “matter of public health,” the July 19 letter from Young and Rep. David Joyce of Ohio states that the current Schedule I classification limits its therapeutic use for treating cancer, PTSD, multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders, among other conditions. The GOP congressmen said that "lives are on the line" because of the Schedule I classification.

“While prescription opioids remain necessary in some cases, initial research has shown cannabis to be a significantly less addictive yet effective pain-management alternative,” they wrote.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, drugs regulated under federal law are placed in one of five schedules, or categories, based on their medical use, safety and risk of abuse, among other factors.

The congressmen said that keeping cannabis “overly scheduled” puts the United States behind global partners and scientific competitors that include Canada, Germany, Israel, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

“For the sake of patients across the country, as well as the United States’ medical superiority across the globe, the challenges posed by the overly stringent Schedule I classification of cannabis must be addressed,” the congressmen said.

Thirty-six U.S. states have enacted reforms that allow for medicinal use of marijuana, but cannabis remains illegal under federal law. In Alaska, cannabis is legal.

Biden cannot change the classification of marijuana with the stroke of his pen in an executive order. The president may request that the Department of Health and Human Services initiate a review process through the attorney general.

Reviews require studies on the impacts to public health and safety, and they involve the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Food and Drug Administration. In reviewing a substance for rescheduling, federal agencies consider:

• Risk and scope of potential abuse;

• Currently accepted medical use; 

• Scientific knowledge;

• Evidence of addiction risks.

Contact Linda F. Hersey at 907-459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.