A New Court Case Might Predict the Future of How We Classify Marijuana

February 14th 2015

Aron Macarow

A California federal judge questioned the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance earlier this week, while hearing the case of nine men charged with growing pot illegally in the northern part of the state. Wondering whether the Feds have wrongly categorized the drug, Sacramento-area Judge Kimberly J. Mueller is taking the arguments of the men’s attorneys “very seriously” according to The Huffington Post.

Accused of growing marijuana on both private and federal lands near Redding, Calif., the group currently faces up to a $10 million fine and life imprisonment, if convicted. (The average sentence on federal pot charges is 42 months without parole. Which should seem like an incredibly harsh sentence compared to, say, 35 months average for sexual assault, but that should come as no surprise to those following the so-called War on Drugs, which has boosted such inequalities in the US since the 1970’s.)

But if Jdg. Mueller agrees with the defense that the federal government is wrong? It could result in the case being thrown out altogether.

Mueller has already indicated a possible direction for the case, in which a ruling will come within the next 30 days, asking prosecutors during closing arguments: “If I were persuaded by the defense’s argument [...] what would you lose here?”

Good question, Jdg. Mueller.

What is a Schedule I drug?

Schedule I substances are determined by three factors, dictated in the federal Controlled Substances Act:

  1. High potential for abuse.
  2. No accepted medical use.
  3. Lack of acceptable safety for recreational use.

These markers came about in 1970, at the same time as four other tiers of controlled (read: potentially dangerous) drug classifications were created. Among other drugs on the list are meth, a class II substance, and cocaine - also class II. (We have former Pres. Richard Nixon to thank for much of this.)

Legally, no Schedule One drug can be prescribed, administered or dispensed for medical use.

Doesn’t this run counter to every state that has legalized marijuana use for medical purposes?

Yes, it does. So far 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed some form of legislation to legalize medical pot usage. These states are technically all in violation of current federal law, although the Obama administration directed federal prosecutors to limit enforcement in states with such laws on the books in 2013 - a stance Congress formalized last December.

Marijuana Laws

To add to the complexity, the top doctor in the US spoke out in favor of marijuana for some medical conditions last week.

In an interview with “CBS This Morning,” US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy agreed with growing scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of pot as a prescription drug, stating: “We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms, marijuana can be helpful. [...] I think we have to use that data to drive policy-making, and I’m very interested to see where that data takes us.”

Pressure has already mounted in recent years for the reclassification of pot, given that it is neither as dangerous recreationally as cigarettes or alcohol nor as addictive. (One study even suggests a 9 percent dependence rate for marijuana - the same as caffeine.)

Given all of the data, will Jdg. Mueller rule the Controlled Substances Act’s designation unconstitutional?

She wouldn’t be out of step to do so. We’ll certainly be watching closely for Jdg. Mueller’s ruling over the next month.