Setting the schedule straight on marijuana?

Ngaio Bealum is a Sacramento comedian, activist and marijuana expert. Email him questions at

I hear a judge in Sacramento may reschedule cannabis.

—Bud Mann

Uh, well, not exactly. Last week, in an evidentiary hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, presiding over the case of U.S. v. Schweder, heard testimony in the matter of about whether or not cannabis should even be a Schedule I drug. Schedule I drugs, as determined by the DEA, are “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.” The list of Schedule I drugs is very short: heroin, ecstasy, methaqualone (Quaaludes, for all you ’70s holdouts and The Wolf of Wall Street fans), LSD, marijuana and peyote.

I suppose arguments can be made that some of these drugs don’t belong on this list, but cannabis shouldn’t even be near this list. Currently accepted medical use? Check. High potential for abuse? Nope. Game. Scoreboard. Don’t forget what the DEA’s own administrative law judge, Francis Young, said way back in 1988: “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.” That should have ended the debate, but the DEA refuses to listen to science or reason or their own judges.

But I digress. Witnesses for the weed included renowned addiction expert Dr. Carl Hart, cannabis activist Chris Conrad and the estimable Dr. Philip Denney. I went and saw some of the proceedings. I didn’t stay long. It is a challenge for me to keep my mouth shut at things like this because I am easily upset by willful ignorance. I agree with what Denney said while on the stand: “I am perplexed as to why there’s even a debate. Cannabis does have medical value.” You can find recaps of actual testimony all over the Interwebs.

But even if by some rare chance the judge agrees that marijuana doesn’t belong on Schedule I, there’s really no way that the law will be changed. I asked Conrad if he thought they had a chance. “It doesn’t really matter,” he said. “Either way, someone will appeal. We may try to get it to the Supreme Court.” I don’t know if this case will make it all the way to the SCOTUS, but I think he is right that the outcome of this hearing won’t have a big effect right away. If Richard Nixon got marijuana added to Schedule I over the objections of his advisers, and the DEA can keep marijuana listed on Schedule I despite their own judge telling them to take it off the list, what chance does this ruling have? I mean, it would be nice to win in court again, but as far as I am concerned, the best, most effective way to achieve legalization so far has been the ballot. I know the election just passed. So what? 2016 will be here sooner than you think.