Although the letter 18 members of Congress sent to President Barack Obama Wednesday morning demanding marijuana be removed from a list of the most dangerous controlled substances was largely symbolic, downgrading pot could actually have some real-world benefits.
Currently, marijuana is classified as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, along with heroin and LSD. Schedule I drugs, according to the government system, have high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.
Science suggests otherwise. “The facts are undeniable that marijuana, while unhealthy, is less dangerous than alcohol," said Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who signed the letter, to The Huffington Post. "Now that the president has acknowledged that, it is time for his administration’s policies to reflect the scientific reality.”
Over the past few years, studies have shown that marijuana can kill some cancer cells and may stop the spread of HIV. It has also helped patients who suffer from seizures, including hundreds of children.
Some say that the Schedule I classification for marijuana prevents federal funding for further research. Forbes' Jacob Sullum pointed out in a recent post that rescheduling marijuana to Schedule III or below might possibly make it easier for universities to conduct research on marijuana.
But Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at University of California, Los Angeles, told HuffPost that he believes rescheduling would have no impact on cannabis research, therefore creating a classic Catch-22.
"The barrier to research is the unavailability of research cannabis. Moreover, until the research has been done, cannabis doesn't meet the legal criteria for rescheduling," he said, noting that he didn't think simply lowering marijuana's schedule would allow institutions to conduct studies automatically. "What really matters is getting federal regulations out of the way of research."
Although marijuana would still be considered illegal under federal law, re-categorizing it could also remove some of the financial burdens that state-licensed marijuana businesses currently face.
A provision of the IRS tax code prohibits any business that “consists of trafficking in controlled substances," which includes Schedule I and II drugs, from making deductions.
Because of this, pot shops cannot deduct traditional business expenses like advertising costs, employee payroll, and rent and health insurance from their combined federal and state taxes. Dispensary owners face effective tax rates of 50 to 60 percent -- and in some states, those rates soar to 80 percent or higher. If marijuana was rescheduled, the tax rule would no longer apply to pot businesses and they could make those deductions.
Advocates hope the Obama administration will heed the advice in Wednesday’s letter. “When President Obama took office, he promised his administration's policy decisions would be based on ‘science and the scientific process,’ not politics or ideology," said Dan Riffle, Marijuana Policy Project's director of federal policies. "Every day marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, his administration is breaking that promise.”