A Quick Guide to Marijuana Prohibition and the Law

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First Principles – Marijuana and Science under Federal Law

MarijuanaLegal Definition

ScienceLegally Binding Scientific Standards

The Law – Legal Definition of Regulatory Authority

1. Authority of the Attorney General to Change Regulatory Status

2. Findings Required for Prohibition Status, Schedule I.

What is Marijuana Prohibition?

Marijuana Prohibition is defined by marijuana’s status as a Schedule I Substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I substances are subject to a near complete prohibition, a ban on medical use, and only limited research allowed. Criminal penalties for marijuana use, sale, and cultivation are justified by marijuana’s Schedule I status. A removal of marijuana from Schedule I would end of marijuana prohibition.

International Treaties:

The law requires that the U.S. amend International Treaties if it discovers scientific information that indicates a drug or substance’s international status should be changed. See 21 USC 811 (d) (5).

Federal Court Interpretation of the Legal Definition of the Findings Required for Schedule I Status:

The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in 1977 that the lack of accepted medical use by itself was insufficient to justify schedule I status for a drug or substance. See DEA, 559 F.2d 735, 748. (1977).

Abuse Finding Required for Marijuana’s Prohibited Status:

No finding that marijuana “has a high potential for abuse” was made during the FDA of marijuana in response to the marijuana rescheduling petition filed by NORML in 1972.

See 51 FR 22947 (1986) .

When Congress enacted the Controlled Substances Act, they knew that there was no scientific evidence that marijuana use had the abuse potential necesary for Schedule I status.

See U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News (1970) p.4603.

The Controlled Substances Act contained provisions in 1970 establishing a National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse which was to report to Congress and the nation (and eventually recommended marijuana decriminalization). The Nixon Administration sent Congress a letter requesting that marijuana be placed in Schedule I on a temporary basis pending the report of the Commission established by the legislation. It was argued that the Attorney General could always begin proceedings to re-schedule marijuana if scientific evidence confirmed that it lacked sufficient abuse potential for schedule I or II status.

See U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News (1970) p.4630.

Indications that Marijuana Does Not Have a High Potential for Abuse.

In 1986 an extensive review of marijuana-related research by Leo Hollister was published in the Pharmalogical Reviews. This article is still cited today as an authoritative and accurate assessment of marijuana’s effects. Dr. Hollister concluded that marijuana was no more addictive than alcohol or tobacco.

See Hollister, L.E. (1986), “Health Aspects of Cannabis”, Pharmacological Reviews, 38:1, 1-20. Pg 17.

In 1992 the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) of the U.S. Congress published a paper on the Biological Basis for Substance Abuse and Addiction. OTA noted that marijuana did not satisfy the contemporary standards for declaring that a drug has dangerous dependence liability.

See U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment Biological Components of Substance Abuse and Addiction (1993) OTA-BP-BBS-117 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, September 1993). pg 5.

The 1995 Petition for the Repeal of Marijuana Prohibition seeks to have the U.S. government review marijuana’s status under the Controlled Substances Act in light recent scientific discoveries regarding marijuana and the cannabinoid receptor system responsible for marijuana’s effects on the human body. The argument outlined above is presented in greater detail in sections 1 and 7 of the petition. Other sections of the petition review a wide range of topics related to the scientific standards referenced above. The home page for the full petition text includes brief descriptions of the research discussed in each section. See Introduction to Rescheduling for more about the 1995 petition and the followup 2002 Cannabis Rescheduling Petition.