Marijuana Rescheduling Part II: Why Opponents Continue to Have No Idea What They Are Talking About

By Jason Adelstone

May 20, 2024

Opponents of cannabis reform continue to promote false narratives on the rescheduling of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This blog builds upon a previous discussion about the misconceptions of marijuana rescheduling by examining a recent House Committee meeting where Representative Andrew S. Clyde (R-GA) used a factually and logically deficient argument in voicing his opposition to removing marijuana from Schedule I.

During this meeting, DEA Administrator Anne Milgram fielded numerous questions on the DEA’s proposed move to reschedule marijuana but refused to answer any, stating that such a response during the rulemaking process would be “inappropriate.” This reasonable decision by Admin. Milgram led some committee members, including Rep. Clyde, to vocalize their conclusions.

At 1:36:41 of the House Committee meeting, Rep. Clyde stated the following:

“Marijuana is a very, very dangerous drug. Not as dangerous as some of the others we have talked about here, but it is certainly more dangerous than what you see regularly that people partake of like, um, alcohol, etc. You have a significant increase in traffic accidents that we have seen that sent people to emergency rooms, simply because they have been partaking of marijuana.”

While this statement raises several points worthy of discussion (including the other substances, outside of alcohol, that Rep. Clyde considers regularly used substances), we'll focus on the following three key issues.

First, Rep. Clyde agrees that marijuana should be moved to Schedule III, even if he won’t admit it. The hearing mainly focused on synthetic drugs, particularly fentanyl, a Schedule II controlled substance. Questions and concerns about fentanyl’s harm to our communities took over most of the hearing. Rep. Clyde’s statement that marijuana is “not as dangerous as some of the others we have talked about here” (i.e. fentanyl) only strengthens the case for placing marijuana outside of Schedule II.

While I and many others believe that descheduling marijuana and treating it like alcohol and tobacco is the preferred outcome, recommending a move to Schedule III was the best outcome to be expected from this scheduling review. Schedule III substances are those with lower risk potential than substances listed in Schedule II (the analysis is not whether marijuana has any risk potential, as many opponents try to phrase it). Therefore, based on Rep. Clyde's statement,  marijuana should be classified outside of Schedule II.

Second, Rep. Clyde makes the unsupported and factually inaccurate claim that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol. Alcohol is far more dangerous than marijuana, as it is responsible for killing thousands of people every year. According to the DEA, marijuana has resulted in zero overdose deaths. Although state-level marijuana legalization may coincide with an increase in ER visits, the increase could be attributable to a number of reasons, including  people feeling safer going into the ER without the risk of police enforcement.

Finally, and related to the second point, Rep. Clyde specifically called out an increase in traffic accidents due to marijuana. It should be noted that, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2022 about 32% of all traffic crash fatalities in the US involved drunk drivers (with BACs of 0.8 g/dL or higher). Roughly 11,000 people die each year from drunk drivers. The NHTSA reports, “In every state, it’s illegal to drive drunk, yet one person was killed in a drunk driving crash every 39 minutes in the United States in 2022.” Since Rep. Clyde and most opponents bring up harms to children in their arguments against marijuana rescheduling, it should be noted that NHTSA also reported that “car crashes are a leading cause of death for teens and almost a third of young drivers killed in fatal crashes involved underage drinking.”

While research is still being conducted on how cannabis use affects driving ability, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis should be dealt with similarly to drunk driving. Criminalize the action, not the substance itself. In its report, the NHTSA “estimates that minimum-drinking-age laws have saved 31,959 lives from 1975 to 2017.” The US’ policy towards alcohol accepts that people— including children—will be injured and die because alcohol is legal. So, our goal as a society isn’t to eliminate deaths; it is to reduce deaths. One way of reducing alcohol-related deaths is to provide adults with a safer alternative—marijuana.

Treating marijuana as more dangerous than a legal and socially acceptable substance responsible for killing approximately 178,000 people per year only minimizes the harms of alcohol to the detriment of us all. This stance does not imply that I think alcohol should be illegal, but rather that marijuana should be treated like alcohol and freely accessible to adults.

Rep. Clyde and other opponents of moving marijuana to Schedule III should take a hard look at what they are actually fighting to accomplish. Their efforts not only continue to promote dangerous alcohol consumption but also weaken the US' position in combating the fentanyl epidemic. Other countries see that the US views marijuana as a more or equally dangerous drug than fentanyl but allows states to legalize its commercialization (save a discussion on federalism for another day). It doesn’t make any sense. Schedule III is not legalization and should not be viewed as such. It is an incremental reform intended to place marijuana on a more reasonable and rational Schedule that acknowledges what is evident to much of the world—marijuana has medical efficacy in treatment and is safer than drugs listed in Schedule I and II.

If you’re looking for ways to contribute to cannabis policy reform efforts, start by contacting your state and federal representatives and urging them to support commonsense cannabis regulation and legalization reforms.

As a proud member of the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform and its partnership with the American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH), Vicente LLP has been a leader in scheduling reform efforts. Our firm was a key contributor to the group’s comprehensive report detailing the legal and policy arguments supporting the urgent need for scheduling reform, and we continue to support reform efforts, including addressing relevant international treaty obligations and criminal justice reforms.

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