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Marijuana has always made the news, but these days the headlines are much different than a decade ago. Across the United States, efforts to reform or repeal what advocates see as antiquated pot laws are gaining momentum. There are five states, including the District of Columbia, that allow the sale and/or use of recreational marijuana and 23 states where medicinal marijuana is legal.
As a result, some politicians and lawmakers, such as presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, are suggesting that pot be removed from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) list of Schedule I drugs. There would be several changes in policy if marijuana were removed from this list.
What Are the Changes if Marijuana is Rescheduled?
- Research into the long-term use of pot could ramp up so that medical science would have more knowledge about the damage and or benefits of using pot. The DEA classifies Schedule I drugs as substances with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Heroin and cocaine are also classified as Schedule I drugs. Because of this classification, very few in-depth studies have been conducted about marijuana.
- States would be legally allowed to set their own policies and laws, and would regulate access to marijuana in much the same way as they control alcohol.
- Decriminalization would ultimately reduce a segment of the national prison population that’s serving time for low-level, nonviolent, marijuana infractions.
- The DEA’s expensive and unsuccessful marijuana eradication program, which began in 1977, would come to an end.
- Marijuana businesses, which are largely cash-only, would be able to use the banks, making it easier for federal and state governments to monitor and tax them appropriately.
Many of the above changes might seem like positives on the surface. But opponents of legalizing pot worry that easier access to the drug will result in more people abusing it. Regardless of the federal laws, marijuana use has steadily been on the rise. A Gallup Poll from the 70s reported that 24 percent of Americans admitted to trying pot. That number rose to 44 percent in 2015.
Although there’s been a shortage of research into the long-term use of marijuana, one recent study got published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Over a 25 year period, the study surveyed the marijuana habits of 3,400 Americans.
The report used an interesting measurement called “marijuana years” that posited, if someone smokes pot every day for one year, that is considered one marijuana year. Smoking pot every other day for two years also equates to one marijuana year.
The results of the report found that for heavy marijuana users, those that smoke every day for five years (five marijuana years), short-term memory is potentially permanently damaged, though processing speed and focus did not appear to be affected.
Marijuana, like alcohol, also has the potential to be addictive. Regular users develop a tolerance and have to use more to achieve similar highs. They also experience what’s known as marijuana withdrawal syndrome when they stop consuming the drug. Though it might not be as dangerous as heroin and cocaine, using pot isn’t necessarily a consequence-free pastime.
The trend toward legalization does not appear to be slowing. Several other states have medicinal and recreational legislation moving through their governments. With changes come challenges. A greater access to addiction treatment for those that need it, as well as more research on the physical and mental effects of marijuana, is surely called for and needed.