On September 6, 1988, DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young decided to place marijuana in Schedule II. It was a historical and defining decision in the history of medical marijuana.
But what does it mean when a drug is categorized as Schedule II? The DEA classifies drugs, substance and some chemicals into five categories of schedules based on their acceptable medical usefulness or dependency potential. Schedule I drugs are those that DEA deem dangerous and severely addictive. Thus, Schedule I drugs have stricter controls and harder to obtain compared to other drugs in Schedules II, III, IV and V. By moving marijuana to Schedule II, qualified patients can have easier access to it upon fulfilling legal protocols.
Previous to Judge Young’s decision, marijuana was categorized as a Schedule I substance. This is a big deal especially for patients being treated with chronic pain and illnesses. For such people, marijuana was not a recreation weed but a medical substance that alleviates them from inhuman pain. Placing marijuana in Schedule I deprives qualified patients the right to access their ‘medicine’.
These were the issues heard and decided in the case according to Docket No. 86-22:
Principle issue: Whether the marijuana plant, considered as a whole, may lawfully be transferred from Schedule I to Schedule II of the schedules established by the Controlled Substances Act.
1.) Whether the marijuana plant has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.
2.) Whether there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the marijuana plant under medical supervision.
How Judge Francis Young did resolved these issues? These are the salient points in Young’s decision:
- Marijuana does not cause death. Although nearly drugs have toxic and potentially lethal effects, cannabis, marijuana is not such substance. Young wrote that “there is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality.” Theoretically, a pothead would have to smoke about 1,500 pounds of cannabis within about 15 minutes in order to die.
- Marijuana has a good ‘therapeutic ration’. This ratio defines the difference between a therapeutically effective dose and a dose capable of inducing adverse effects. An over-the-counter drug like aspirin has a 1:20 therapeutic ratio. If a person take more than twenty times this dose, it will cause severe internal bleeding. Eating 10 raw potatoes can cause toxicity. But no such toxicity or adverse effects can happen to a person even when one ‘overdose’ with marijuana.
- Marijuana obtained illegally causes panic reaction. Medical patients using illegally obtained cannabis suffer panic reaction after use and further complicates their condition. Panic reaction occur when the patient becomes extremely anxious upon using marijuana, a Schedule I drug. By legalizing marijuana, patients are prevented from panic reaction that worsen their condition.
- Medical marijuana users can be screened. Not all who apply for medical marijuana shall be allowed access to it if it shall further endanger their health or worsen their condition. Doctors can disallow medical marijuana use if they deem patients as unqualified.
- Marijuana can be used safely and effectively under medical supervision. Like all medicines and medical procedures, it is expected that doctors supervise, manage and monitor the use and treatment of marijuana.
- Medical marijuana has valid and well-research evidences. There are numerous well-documents medical case studies, researches and testimonials pointing to the fact that medical marijuana is effective in treating certain illnesses and in alleviating of severe chronic pain.
Excerpts of the recommendation and conclusion from the well-penned decision of Judge Francis Young reads:
Marijuana can be harmful. Marijuana is abused. But the same is true of dozens of drugs or substances which are listed in Schedule II so that they can be employed in treatment by physicians in proper cases, despite their abuse potential.
There are those who, in all sincerity, argue that the transfer of marijuana to Schedule II will "send a signal" that marijuana is "OK" generally for recreational use. This argument is specious. It presents no valid reason for refraining from taking an action required by law in light of the evidence. If marijuana should be placed in Schedule II, in obedience to the law, then that is where marijuana should be placed, regardless of misinterpretation of the placement by some. The reasons for the placement can, and should, be clearly explained at the time the action is taken. The fear of sending such a signal cannot be permitted to override the legitimate need, amply demonstrated in this record, of countless suffers for the relief marijuana can provide when prescribed by a physician in a legitimate case.
The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.
The administrative law judge recommends that the Administrator conclude that the marijuana plant considered as a whole has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, that there is no lack of accepted safety for use of it under medical supervision and that it may lawfully be transferred from Schedule I to Schedule II. The judge recommends that the Administrator transfer marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II.