The legalization debate regarding marijuana is nothing new- with marijuana use legalized in some capacity in 23 states, nearly half the country has aligned with the push to decriminalization. With it’s current ranking as a Schedule I drug, marijuana is considered a substance with a high risk of abuse and no medical applications. Of course, now we know that’s not necessarily true; while marijuana is addictive and abusable, it does have medical applications that are, at the very least, worth exploring.
Though these medical applications are often misquoted by well-meaning supporters of decriminalization (marijuana is not a miracle cancer cure, in fact, it can still cause the same cancers associated with smoking tobacco), to say that marijuana it is too dangerous to consider the medical uses isn’t right either- especially when we recall that some of the most dangerous street drugs around today started as medications. Cannabidiols have been used to manage severe epileptic conditions, affect pain management for people with chronic pain, and as an alternative to psychoactive medications for people with severe mental health problems.
This is by no means an endorsement for self-medication. These medical applications for marijuana are used under the supervision and permission of medical professionals who can properly ensure the benefits outweigh the potential for negative side effects such as dependency, addiction, and progression into abuse of stronger illicit drugs. While marijuana is not necessarily the gateway drug we are often led to believe it is, it does have the potential to lead to alcohol abuse- and alcohol can be a gateway into harder substances.
With all that said, the DEA has announced that within the coming several months it will reach its decision regarding rather or not it will remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs.
This possible change in scheduling does not necessarily mean full legalization; the purpose would be to allow scientists and researchers to further explore medical and scientific applications for marijuana. Should the ranking change from a Schedule I to a Schedule II- something that has only happened five times- it would mean that marijuana is still considered a drug with a high risk of abuse, but the medical applications would be recognized, making it accessible to those who would benefit from it through tightly regulated prescriptions.
The unfortunate problem for many people whose quality of life could be greatly improved with medicinal marijuana is the same problem the medical industry is already facing when it comes to powerful painkillers: there are people waiting to take advantage and abuse such a change. Legislators and the authorities of the Drug Enforcement Administration must find a way to help those in need while preventing misuse of the medical system to gain access to marijuana.
Of course, there are people who believe consenting adults should be free to use marijuana as they see fit, much like with tobacco and alcohol. What’s interesting about that is that many are lobbying for those very same substances to be made illegal due to the well-documented dangers they pose.
However, decriminalization of recreational use would help to improve the dire state of the U.S. prison system. While full legalization of marijuana would still come with regulations regarding sale and distribution of the substance, it would drastically cut back on the extreme prison sentences handed down to people caught in possession of marijuana. President Obama has made drastic pushes toward reformation of sentencing when it comes to low-level drug offenders. Changing of the marijuana’s scheduling would go a long way in continuing these necessary reformations.