From I to III: Change the Classification of Marijuana Federally

By: Brandon Lancaster

Executive Summary

            The citizens of the county want to change the classification of marijuana in America. Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug and the citizens want it to be considered a Schedule III drug. Marijuana in the United States is evaluated based on racial social context rather than the objective medical context. The citizens provide possible policy alternatives against the current one. Afterwards, they choose the most plausible alternative and provide a plan to implement the policy.


            The citizens of this county believe the substance marijuana needs to change classification under the Controlled Substances Act. The reason for this change is to benefit those who medically rely on marijuana to calm the symptoms of their diseases. There are studies demonstrating some of the medicinal benefits of marijuana, along with states prescribing it for certain illnesses, according to many sources (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 2019; Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 2016; Peters II; Vitiello, 2020; Wen and Hockenberry, 2018).

            In addition, attitudes across the country are leaning more towards marijuana legalization rather than restriction according to Justin McCarthy’s Gallup poll (Graphs 1 and 2, 2017). These changing attitudes caused many citizens of this county to research why marijuana was illegal on the federal level, yet legal state wise. Once they understood the source of marijuana’s criminalization, they sought to change the narrative as to give marijuana a chance to prove its medical worth. The following sections will first detail marijuana’s role throughout United States history. This will provide context as to way the citizens feel so strongly about the change of classification. Then, it will describe the current policy of marijuana on a federal level and policy alternatives to highlight the angles at which they believed the country could direct itself. After analyzing each angle, the most reasonable alternative was the basis by which the citizens created their policy proposition.

Marijuana’s History within the United States

            As the United States began as a farming nation, marijuana was regarded as one of the cash crops harvested in the lands. Doctors have been recorded to put cannabis in various medicines before United States even became a nation. As such, marijuana was not considered a dangerous substance until the early 1900s. Two sources state Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, was the primary advocate for marijuana criminalization (Perlman; McGettigan). Anslinger categorized marijuana as a substance which could make minorities think they are equal, which played on fear of minority advancement within White Americans. The fear was shown through subtle changes, such as referring to the substance as marijuana/marihuana instead of cannabis as to associate minority use (according to Vitiello, 2020, pg. 797). As such, marijuana became an illegal substance to this day federally (Controlled Substances Act List, 2020, pg. 11). The citizens point out this is not a viable explanation as to why marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug. The racist intent behind making marijuana illegal roots itself in hatred and fear rather than the medical benefits and consequences which other drugs are subject.

            An interesting concept to note is the federal government could see there were medical benefits to marijuana. According to Vitiello (2020), Raphael Mechoulam found marijuana could suppress some of epilepsy’s symptoms in 1980. Vitiello also reported Mariah Barnhart’s Cannamoms, a group using cannabis to treat their children’s epilepsy, which only strengthened Mechoulam’s findings roughly three decades later (pg. 4). Another source states Consrue reported marijuana could assist with Multiple Sclerosis in 1997 (according to Peters II, pg. 25). With these benefits, the federal government had research defending marijuana’s medical use, but the classification refuses to change. However, the citizens do note the findings are lacking in numbers which point to marijuana’s medical benefit. This is attributed to the classification of marijuana, which prohibits research of the substance since it poses a strong risk.

            Another factor which pushed for change was the community. Within the state, medical marijuana dispensaries were considered essential businesses. To clarify, this means while all restaurants and entertainment places, such as movie theaters, all close, the dispensaries remain open and available to assist those in dire need. Once the citizens saw this, the discrepancy between the classification of marijuana federally and the use locally pushed them further into their position. However, as the citizens know in-group bias may occur, they observed five policy alternatives to determine the benefits and costs of each possible policy course.

            Finally, the citizens were influenced by other states. For example, Pennsylvania and Colorado both have qualifying conditions lists for their medical marijuana programs (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 2019; Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 2016). The citizens thought it was strange that states would have medical marijuana while the federal government prohibited the substance. The citizens concluded the racist intentions left by Anslinger was ingrained within the federal governments ruling. The conclusion led the citizens to pursue a course of action where racism did not ruin the validity of policy.

Policy Alternatives

            The five alternatives presented in this section are somewhat broad in terminology. The citizens felt this would allow for a slightly easier time in understanding the topic if not all citizens were as informed as another. The five options are as proposed: 1) Continue the illegality of marijuana on a federal level and enforce it on a state level, 2) Change the classification of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act List off a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug, but do not decriminalize, 3) Decriminalize marijuana, but do not change the classification, 4) Decriminalize and change marijuana’s classification, and finally 5) Legalize marijuana. The citizens developed these options from their research of marijuana’s context within the United States and using the chart on the Defense Information Systems Agency’s website. This chart can be found in Appendix A.

            The costs and benefits of the first alternative are skewed to the costs. According to the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) (2020), Washington D.C. along with 35 states (New Jersey is not being accounted for as they just started the process of legalizing recently) have medical marijuana policies in place (according to the chart). The cost of alternative 1 requires these states and district to change their policies, which take time and money to remove the institutions created. In addition, the opioid epidemic stays on the rise with no substitution while other patients dependent on marijuana to calm their symptoms lose their medicine. The benefits are not as numerous. The United States’ federal government would gain the right to say once again it is the highest form of policy in the land and stop a substance with little medical research onto the land frivolously.

            Next, the second alternative is a bit more lenient. According to the DEA (2020), a Schedule III drug is categorized as a substance with moderate to little dependency and abuse (para. 7). As such, changing marijuana to fit this classification still restricts its use in the United States, but it gives it some medical viability, as shown in other research endeavors. Applied on a federal level, marijuana could be monitored across the United States while also giving rise to research opportunities to prove its medical worth. Patients dependent on opioids could substitute with marijuana use. Also, the state governments could gain revenue off of marijuana’s business, increasing the money spent on helping the community. The costs on the state governments decrease as it is not required to change their policies to match the federal government’s (thus no changing current policy, taking down institutions, etc.).

            The third alternative does not have huge costs nor benefits. With decriminalizing marijuana, the use will increase. However, it would still be prohibited for medical use and still poses a risk of dependency. As there is also very little research to confirm the range of marijuana’s usefulness, it would pose somewhat dangerous to the American public as decriminalizing would increase the use. The benefit would be research would begin but slowed immensely by the classification.

            The last two options are similar. Both decriminalize marijuana and permit medical use and research. The fifth option is a complete reversal of the current policy. As much as that seems like an appropriate response, the danger of abuse may be a side effect of marijuana use. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and its classification under the Controlled Substances Act makes its medical uses ill defined. It poses too much of a risk to the public to release the substance with little regulation.

Looking at these alternatives, the citizens of the county believe the second option is the most plausible solution if the policy were to change. It allows cannabis to be regulated at an acceptable pace while also aiding those who rely on the medicine. Additionally, it allows marijuana to development a backing based around its medical effects rather than the fear instilled by Anslinger. In the next section, the citizens lay out a broad policy plan, which is open to amendments.

Policy Proposition

As with all policy, the competing interests should be as balanced as possible. The citizens of the county understand this, especially considering the policy would be applied federally. As such, the main focal points are as listed:

  • Marijuana’s classification under the Controlled Substances Act would change to a Schedule III drug, is not legalized recreationally
  • The federal government would create a standard qualifying conditions list for the states, but it may be expanded upon if the state so wishes
  • Medical marijuana will be observed over a span of the century to determine its true worth in the medicine realm


            The main purpose of changing the classification is to assist those who depend on medical marijuana and change the narrative behind the substance. Cannabis would be considered a Schedule III drug and has limited uses within the medical field. This allows for regulation and observance of the substance so that it may not run rampant throughout the United States.


            The citizens of this county believe the implementation process will take some time. Changing the classification may be simple enough, but the actual implementation into the world is much different. The federal government first needs to establish a medical qualifying list which all states use a standard for medical marijuana. This would happen by looking at the limited research on marijuana’s effects along with synthesizing the lists states will provide. This standard helps give rise to other research opportunities and regulate the distribution of the substance. The states will have to follow the standard list, but they are welcomed, if not encouraged, to expand upon the list. It helps give the states a degree of autonomy while also being specific to the needs of different regions.

            A good point to note is marijuana is not legalized recreationally. The citizens of this county all believe marijuana has medical benefits, but due to the lack of research, they believe it wise not to let it free for consumption. It may yield true harmful consequences which research has yet to identify.

            Regulation does not stop there. Medical marijuana would still be heavily observed by the federal government as it has a stake when it determines its qualifying conditions list. If marijuana proves more harmful than good, the policy may always change back to a Schedule I drug.  Over the next century, the medical centers would need to report findings of marijuana improving patients’ lives and lowering the severity of the symptoms.


            In conclusion, the citizens of this county wish for marijuana’s classification under the Controlled Substances Act to change from Schedule I to Schedule III. Marijuana’s status as an illegal drug stemmed from fear and racial hatred. The citizens wish for marijuana to be based on its medical effects instead. There have been some reports of success with marijuana treating disease symptoms, but the research is limited due to its status within the United States. The citizens believe it can work if the federal government works closely to regulate marijuana while also permitting research and medical use. Hopefully, not only will this allow for medicine advancement, but it helps lower the racial tensions within the United States, bringing the people closer together.


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