Oregon became the latest state and the first in many years to officially reclassify marijuana from its status as a dangerous drug with no medical value. The Oregon Board of Pharmacy (BOP) voted 4-1 today to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II. The Oregon BOP decision comes after many months of deliberation and input from the public. The Oregon legislature passed SB 728 in August 2009, which directed the BOP to reclassify marijuana to Schedule II, III, IV or V. Although Oregon and 13 other states have adopted medical marijuana laws, marijuana has officially remained a Schedule I substance according to the federal government, and most states defer to that federal status.
"This latest decision by a state public health and drug regulatory body to reclassify marijuana as medicine should send a clear message to the federal government," said Caren Woodson, Director of Government Affairs with Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana patient advocacy organization. "The reclassification of marijuana at the federal level is long overdue and certainly ripe for consideration."
Under the Controlled Substances Act, enacted in 1970, the federal government placed marijuana in a Schedule I classification, with a high potential for abuse and no medical value. Several attempts have since been made to reclassify marijuana at the federal level. A petition filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, is the latest attempt and currently pending before the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently made its recommendations to the DEA, the final agency to review the petition. Acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, who still must be confirmed by the Senate, is the final remaining arbiter as to the rescheduling petition's fate.
"DEA Administrator Leonhart has a less than impressive record on medical marijuana," continued Woodson. "But, with the changing political winds on this issue, the Obama Administration has a chance to do the right thing for the hundreds of thousands of sick Americans that benefit from medical marijuana."
Although only four states - Alaska, Iowa, Montana, and Tennessee and the District of Columbia - have classified marijuana as a therapeutic substance, there appears to be a trend to change that. In addition to today's decision, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy recommended in February that its legislature reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, thereby recognizing its medical use. While such moves are more symbolic than practical, especially in medical marijuana states like Oregon, it does tend to reinforce the argument that marijuana has medical value. By law, the Oregon BOP has until June 30th to implement the new rules.