Has the time come to remove marijuana from Minnesota’s Schedule 1 of the Minnesota Controlled Substances Act? Yes, the time has come. Here is an explanation of why; and how you can help make it happen before more lives are destroyed by this irrational and unjust law.
The Minnesota Controlled Substances Act (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 152) is similar to the Federal Controlled Substances Act (21 United States Code Sections 801 et seq) in that it creates lists, or “schedules” of drugs, numbered one through five.
Drugs listed in Schedule 1 are supposed to be a drug or other substance that has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or lacks accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision. Examples of Schedule 1 drugs include the opiates, such as heroin, morphine, etc.
A “Schedule 2” drug is meant to include drugs with a high potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions, and, abuse of the drug or other substance may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Examples of Schedule 2 drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, and pentobarbital.
Schedules 3 and 4 are thought to include drugs less harmful or prone to abuse than those the government has listed in Schedule 1 and 2. Schedule 5 includes drug or concentrations of drugs the government thinks are less dangerous or prone to abuse relative to the drugs or other substances in schedule IV, has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or abuse of the drug or other substance may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to the drugs or other substances in schedule IV.
Where has the government seen fit to categorize marijuana within this scheme? Currently, they still list marijuana as a “Schedule 1” category drug, right in there with heroin. Apparently the government views marijuana as more dangerous than methamphetamine, which is only a Schedule 2 drug.
What difference does it make? Lots. But here are two big ways it makes a difference where the government categorizes marijuana within its laws: harming people and public safety with criminalization, and harming people and public health by creating a legal barrier to legal medical marijuana treatment.
As the Minnesota Controlled Substances Act (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 152) is currently written, removing marijuana from all “schedules” listed (sometimes called “descheduling”) would have limited impact since most controlled substance crimes specifically list marijuana by name. Moving it from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 would appear to make no difference at all, as far as criminalization is concerned.
Medical Treatment with Marijuana
How can there be a legal medical marijuana program under Minnesota law, and yet still have marijuana listed as a “Schedule 1 drug,” which is defined as having no currently accepted medical use in treatment? Is Schedule 1 marijuana really more dangerous than Schedule 2’s methamphetamine? After all, at least 23 of the 50 states now have legal medical marijuana programs and nearly half the U.S. population lives in states where medical marijuana is legal today. “No currently accepted medical use in treatment?” Really? To the contrary, marijuana is currently accepted medical treatment, across the United States.
Allowing inertia to continue marijuana in Schedule 1 has harmful implications for public health of the people of Minnesota. It creates innumerable difficulties for sick people who are just trying to treat their illness, including insurance issues. This in turn creates unfairness for the ill and disabled who have a low-income, or could be driven into the underground market for medicine.
We ought to take our laws seriously and change them to reflect reality and truth, as best we can. We need to amend Minnesota law to remove marijuana from Schedule 1, either into Schedule 2 or complete descheduling (remove from all Minnesota Controlled Substances Act schedules).
A bipartisan Bill recently introduced into the United States Senate would move marijuana from the federal Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 (titled the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States or “CARERS” Act.) We should get this done in Minnesota at our state legislature, first. The Minnesota State Senate now has a Bill pending to amend the Minnesota Controlled Substances Act to add various drugs and substances to the various Schedules.
This is a perfect opportunity for us to urge the Minnesota Senate and Minnesota House to amend that Bill to either deschedule marijuana, or at least move it down to Schedule 2. In 2011, the Minnesota law was changed so that the Minnesota Pharmacy Board no longer has authority to move drugs or other substances out of Schedule 1. Only the Minnesota legislature can do it now.
So pick up the phone, send a letter, or otherwise contact your Minnesota State Senator and House Representative and ask them to support an amendment to SF 1219 and HF1376 to deschedule marijuana or reschedule it to Schedule 2.
Thomas C. Gallagher is a Minneapolis Defense Attorney representing people accused of marijuana crimes, and the Chair of Minnesota NORML.