It goes without saying that attitudes toward marijuana in this country have undergone a fundamental shift over the last decade. Indeed, one needn't look any further than the fact that 25 states and the District of Columbia have now passed laws legalizing use of the drug for medicinal purposes as evidence of this reality.
As significant as this development has been, consider also there are currently movements among lawmakers in some of the 25 holdout states to introduce medical marijuana programs, including right here in North Carolina.
While all of this might lead you to believe that the federal government was poised to alter its rigid stance toward marijuana, codified 46 years ago in the Controlled Substances Act, it doesn't appear as if this will be happening anytime soon.
On Thursday, the Drug Enforcement Administration published an announcement in the Federal Register indicating that it would not be granting a request made in a recent petition to remove the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug.
For those unfamiliar with this classification system, the Controlled Substances Act classifies drugs, substances and certain chemicals used to make drugs into five schedules based upon their 1) accepted medical use and 2) potential for dependency and abuse.
In general, those drugs with widely accepted medical uses, and a low potential for dependency and abuse will be listed as Schedule IV or V drugs, while those drugs with no accepted medical uses, and a high potential for dependency and abuse will be listed as Schedule I drugs.
Some other examples of Schedule I drugs with which marijuana is grouped include heroin and LSD.
As for the reasoning behind its most recent refusal to reclassify marijuana, the DEA pointed to the latest round of research by both the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Food and Drug Administration, which it is legally required to follow. Here, this research concluded that there is still insufficient evidence to support the conclusion that marijuana is a safe and effective medicine.
What this means from a criminal law perspective, of course, is that those facing federal charges for crimes like manufacturing or trafficking marijuana will continue to face lengthy prison sentences and significant fines.
If you are under investigation or have been charged with any sort of drug crime -- at either the state or federal level -- it's imperative to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.