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A Few Reasons Federal Legalization Makes A Lot of Sense

With the passage of the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana was regaled to the most restrictive class, Schedule 1, alongside heroin, ecstasy, and LSD. Substances with a Schedule 1 designation are those with “no currently accepted medical use,” per the FDA, and that have a high potential for abuse. Over the years, however, legislators, presidential candidates, and advocacy groups alike have called for the reclassification of marijuana, for a number of reasons.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, "de-scheduling marijuana will facilitate medical research, ensure patient access, and remove federal prohibitions." And as more and more states legalize marijuana for recreational and/or medical use, ensuring that we have fact-based research on marijuana's effectiveness is becoming a hotbed issue.

A number of former marijuana legalization critics have changed their tune in recent years, advocating for decriminalization at the federal level. The topic has even seen bipartisan support. For instance, Florida Reps. Donna Shalala (D) and Matt Gaetz (R), introduced a bill on September 12, 2019, that aims to federally reclassify marijuana. For her part, Rep. Shalala is among those legislators who opposed marijuana legalization in the past. During Bill Clinton's presidency, she served as the federal Health and Human Services secretary, and in 1996 spoke out against medical marijuana laws passed in California and Arizona.

The Marijuana Moment quotes Rep. Shalala as saying at the time, "all available research has concluded that marijuana is dangerous to our health. Marijuana harms the brain, the heart, the lungs and our immune system." It's unclear why her stance on marijuana legalization has completely changed as of 2019, but it's indicative of the overall American attitude regarding cannabis.

Why More Marijuana Research is Needed

Like many controlled substances, marijuana has seen its fair share of misinformation, which is due in part to its Schedule 1 classification. And marijuana-based misinformation has even come from governmental sources. For example, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was forced to remove inaccurate information about marijuana from its website in early 2017 after a pro-marijuana nonprofit filed a legal request with the Department of Justice. False information on the DEA's website included claims that marijuana is a gateway drug and can cause irreversible cognitive decline.

Marijuana research can help curb the spread of misinformation and help Americans to better understand the effects and efficacy of medical marijuana. It's important to note that marijuana is extremely versatile, varying considerably in potency and effect depending on the strain. Marijuana typically falls into two distinct strain categories: Indica and sativa. Indica is recommended for relaxation, as it contains higher levels of CBD and less THC, while sativa strains promote energetic sensations.

Patients who are prescribed medical marijuana typically find relief in strains with higher CBD content. Healthline reports that CBD can help with a variety of medical conditions, including chronic pain, nausea, migraines, and epilepsy. In fact, Epidiolex, the first prescription drug to contain CBD, was approved by the FDA in June 2018 and is used to treat severe epilepsy. Where chronic pain is concerned, many medical professionals have found CBD oil to be a safe alternative to opioids, yet more research on the compound's pain-relieving benefits is needed. Federal legalization and/or re-classification will help get CBD research off the ground.

How Dangerous is Marijuana?

It's no secret that the U.S. is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, with an estimated 78 people dying from opioid overdose every day. Opioids are a class of drugs derived from the opium poppy, and they can be either synthetic or naturally cultivated. According to Bradley University, the use of opioids is becoming increasingly common within healthcare settings. Between 1999 and 2014, in fact, sales of prescription opioids nearly quadrupled.

Opioids are believed to work by inhibiting the brain's pain signals, and while effective, they are highly addictive. Despite the addictive nature of opioids, however, the majority are classified as Schedule 2 drugs. Schedule 2 opioids include morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and fentanyl. Logically, it makes little sense that opioids should be classified as "less dangerous" than marijuana.

In an effort to curb the rising number of opioid-related deaths, many healthcare professionals are beginning to look for alternative pain relief options that are safer yet still effective. CBD oil may be an ideal choice for many patients, as no one in recorded history has ever died from a marijuana overdose. Reports that a 39-year-old Louisiana woman died from a THC overdose in February 2019 have been repeatedly debunked by experts.

Marijuana Across State Lines

As of September 2019, the use of recreational marijuana is legal for adults in 11 states as well as Washington D.C. Further, medical marijuana is allowed in 22 additional states with a valid prescription. Yet even with a medical marijuana prescription in hand, statewide legalization is problematic for those who travel to other states where marijuana use remains criminalized.

Further compounding the issue is the fact that several states make no distinction between marijuana containing THC, the compound responsible for a "high," and hemp, which is non-psychoactive. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is also unable to distinguish between hemp-derived and cannabis-derived products, so it's inadvisable to fly with anything containing CBD. Generally speaking, individuals with a marijuana prescription who are traveling to or through a state where possession is prohibited should leave their medication behind to be safe.

A growing number of U.S. citizens and lawmakers believe that federal marijuana bans harm patients. Further, differing state laws often leave traveling medical marijuana patients without a treatment option. Federal legalization, or a CSA re-classification at the very least, would help reduce legal confusion regarding marijuana- and hemp-based products and medications, and allow for more research on the possible benefits of the substance.

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