In 1970, the Nixon administration passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), establishing a scale of acceptability for regulated substances and delegating those drugs to a five-point classification system. Currently, cannabis is filed under “Schedule I,” a category reserved for drugs and substances that the DEA defines as having high abuse potential and no medical use.
Cannabis advocates are calling for the removal of cannabis from the federal drug schedule (or at least a less severe classification), citing missed research opportunities and a need to update antiquated federal laws that directly oppose congressional amendments protecting a state’s rights to adjust cannabis laws within its borders.
To determine how the public views cannabis’ position as a Schedule I drug and the implications of that classification, we surveyed nearly 1,000 people about cannabis’ potential and how a new scheduling system could look in the future.
For clarity’s sake, we pulled a small sampling of the substances that are most well-known and recognizable to the public to show the breadth of the drug scheduling system. Review the substance list and continue reading to see how the public’s sentiment toward cannabis has changed over time.
Woefully Uninformed on Cannabis’ Standing
Although the CSA has kept cannabis in the Schedule I category since it was signed into law, the public seems uninformed as to where the substance is placed: Only 37% of survey participants correctly identified cannabis as a Schedule I drug. Cannabis’ classification as a Schedule I substance groups it with more serious drugs, such as heroin and LSD. However, respondents who had tried cannabis in the past were 18 percentage points more likely to identify it as a Schedule I drug correctly.
Millennials and Democrats were also the most informed on the DEA’s policy regarding marijuana. In recent years, more and more young people have pushed for the legalization of cannabis; however, baby boomers may still hesitate to join in the support, as they witnessed the criminalization of cannabis firsthand.
On the other hand, Democrats surveyed mirrored the stances of Democratic officials who have proposed to legalize and decriminalize marijuana federally to allow for medical research while also expunging nonviolent cannabis charges.
Assessment and Assignment of Cannabis
Perhaps one of the strongest indications of the public’s approval of cannabis is its favorability as a medical product: 84% of respondents said cannabis had the greatest potential for medical use, beating even lab-derived pharmaceuticals. In fact, when asked about marijuana’s risk of abuse or dependency, respondents said cannabis had relatively low risk, alongside prescription drugs, such as Robitussin A-C and Ambien.
Since hemp was made legal with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, exploration into its use in medical therapy has grown significantly, with an estimated 6.4 million unique searches involving CBD per month. Attracted to the slew of health benefits that CBD can promote, many are finding success by adding it to their treatment regimen, a far cry from the Schedule I status CBD/hemp maintained up until the 2018 Farm Bill redefined marijuana and hemp as different entities under U.S. law.
On the other hand, heroin was the worst substance among survey participants, a strong indication of the reach the opioid crisis has on the U.S. The majority of respondents felt it was affiliated with psychological (91%) and physical dependence (92%) and was likely to be abused (95%). Heroin’s involvement in overdose deaths increased from 11% in 2011 to 25% in 2016, an uptick that has only been exasperated by fentanyl, a deadly compound with extremely high potency.
Where Would Cannabis Be on a New Scale?
We asked respondents to imagine a new drug scheduling system, encouraging them to place substances in each category. Eight-four percent of people believed cannabis should be classified in a lower Schedule, while 38% believed it should be entirely removed from the purview of the CSA.
For those who have experienced the pain and anguish that addiction can cause, drug use can be an extremely sensitive subject. Following the recommendations of the survey pool and placing cannabis into Schedule III (or removing it from the scheduling system altogether) would at least redefine cannabis as having accepted medical value, therefore allowing for more comprehensive research into cannabis’ medical contributions. One of the largest comprehensive medical cannabis analyses found that cannabis “policy is outpacing science,” a sobering fact that indicates how little the government has done to support research into the opportunity that cannabis research represents.
In all other instances except for cannabis, respondents were likely to move substances into higher categories, such as placing methamphetamine and cocaine into Schedule I, as well as nudging ketamine and Xanax into a theoretical Schedule II.
Rescheduling Cannabis for Science
According to our survey, the most valuable benefit to rescheduling marijuana to a lower classification is the opportunity for medical research, in which 81% of respondents (especially Democrats) supported. Since Schedule I substances are defined as not having any medical value, research is extremely limited. In fact, anyone who wants to research marijuana must jump through hoops to get clearance for their research.
These barriers have created an ethical dilemma as patients may not know cannabis can help relieve their symptoms. With far-reaching bans on federal studies, educational institutions have taken the torch on cannabis and CBD research.
UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative currently has more than 15 active research projects, with many focused on juvenile and adolescent cannabis use, while the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at UC San Diego is supporting ongoing research into CBD’s effectiveness for patients with autism, early psychosis, alcoholism treatment, insomnia, and more.
Could We See Cannabis Removed From Schedule I?
Moving cannabis to a more acceptable place on the DEA’s scheduling system (or removing it completely) seems to be a favorable opinion. Today, 9 in 10 Americans support some type of cannabis legalization, whether medicinal or recreational. With nationwide changes to hemp policies, CBD is becoming more publicly acceptable and recognized for having important medical value.
Are you hoping that future elections will bring about cannabis legalization? Now that it’s federally legal, have you considered CBD as a viable treatment? Head to American Marijuana and find the CBD product that works best for you. With our free library of resources, learn how CBD oil can help bring sought-after relief to your life.
To conduct this study, we surveyed 955 people using Amazon Mechanical Turk. Everyone was qualified to take the survey. However, if respondents failed an attention-check question that was located about halfway through the survey, they were disqualified, and their answers up to that point were excluded from our analysis.
Relevant demographics and their sample sizes are as follows:
- Millennials: 521
- Generation X: 278
- Baby Boomers: 121
- Political affiliation:
- Republicans: 292
- Democrats: 483
- Cannabis use:
- Have used: 560
- Haven’t used: 395
The definitions and examples of the drug schedules are sourced from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s page on the drug schedule system.
The data collected for this study relied on self-report. Some limitations that come with this include but are not limited to the following: selective memory, telescoping, and exaggeration. We can not be certain as to how close these data match up with reality.
Fair Use Statement
Not sure why cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug? Your readers may feel a similar way too. Feel free to share our project with them, so long as it’s for noncommercial purposes. Just make sure that you include a link back to this page so that your readers can take in the full breadth of our research.