The Undeniable Racism of the Controlled Substances Act is Finally Under Assault

The United States federal government is closer than ever before to implementing nationwide cannabis legalization. We carefully chose that term – closer than ever before – because, honestly, it’s not likely to happen for years. A blanket set of regulations intended to fairly cover all 50 states is really not the sort of thing that we want out of touch politicians to rush, so that timeline is not such bad news. The good news is that the movement is absolutely progressing, not only state by state (33 of them now plus D.C. have legalized medical and/or recreational cannabis), but through the halls of the United States Congress and the offices of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)as well.

Now a new light has been cast on the shadowy federal statute known as the Controlled Substances Act. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon back in 1970, the public was told that the CSA was intended to categorize all known drugs, medicines, and narcotic substances, based on their potential for abuse versus any medical applications or benefits. Just three years later, the DEA was formed, also by Nixon, and was given the primary objective of enforcing the Controlled Substances Act.

The Controlled Substances Act is broken down into five categories, referred to as “Schedules”, ranked 1-5 based on the level of legality (or illegality) of the substances found on each schedule. Schedule 1, for example, is reserved for federally illegal drugs that have been deemed to have a high likelihood of abuse with no medicinal value. Of course, some dumbasses decided to put cannabis on that list and the repercussions since then have been far-reaching and far from beneficial to society whatsoever.


To deny decades of anecdotal evidence of the many, many health benefits that come with ingesting the cannabis plant is the real crime, but it has been a part of the game for decades. More independent, peer-reviewed studies are coming out all the time touting marijuana for all sorts of beneficial boosts to a consumers’ quality of life but the federal research necessary to study the plant and its many uses on behalf of our nation’s lawmakers has been stymied for over 40 years by the DEA whose blessing is needed for any such project.

Due to the Schedule 1 status of the cannabis plant, the only buds that can be researched using federal resources are buds grown by federally approved cultivators. For decades, the only federally regulated cultivator has been a team at the University of Mississippi whose less-than-mid-grade boof weed has repeatedly been shown to be rich in impurities and deficient in cannabinoids. How do they expect to get accurate data from that starting material? Or maybe that’s the point.

Thanks to the persistence of civilian researchers like Dr. Sue Sisley, that looks like it is about to change for the better. In a statement quietly released this week by the DEA, the militantly anti-cannabis agency revealed that they would finally take action on a years-old pledge to approve several new federally approved cannabis growers across the country.

Dr. Sisley, of the Scottsdale Research Institute, was one of 33 applicants to submit their requests back in 2016. The DEA ignored those applications – most of them from reputable universities and research facilities like SRI – until this latest announcement exactly two days before a deadline set by a lawsuit filed by Dr. Sisley against the agency for their inaction.

We all know that honest research teams are going to discover vast amounts of potential health benefits for a wide variety of common ailments as soon as they get their hands on actual top-shelf cannabis. For the DEA, cannabis is job security. It is way easier to bust potheads than the folks trafficking other Schedule 1 substances. This research threatens to make them actually protect and serve our communities so their cooperation is sure to be… strained.

Some industry insiders speculate that once federally funded research teams and peer-reviewed journals start telling the world what we already know about this amazing plant that the Feds will be compelled to bump marijuana from Schedule 1, down to the less restrictive and medically acceptable Schedule 2. Yeeeaaahhh… that’s not good enough.

While it would certainly loosen the noose on some crucial issues currently choking state-sanctioned cannabis markets (like banking and insurance options, Veterans Affairs, etc.), Schedule 2 drugs are still heavily regulated and require a written prescription from a doctor to obtain. Schedule 2 prescriptions cannot be refilled; they must be re-diagnosed and rewritten by that doc. What that would mean for cannabis reform is unclear, and that is the problem. On Schedule 2, cannabis would still be seated beside drugs like morphine, opium, and OxyContin. Hell, even on Schedule 3 it would draw comparisons to meth, ketamine, or Vicodin.

No, it’s time to completely remove the cannabis plant from the Controlled Substances Act. This isn’t some pipe dream; the federal government already (sort of) did it in the 2018 Farm Bill which did completely de-schedule any cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3% THC – now classified officially as hemp.

Law enforcement agencies across the country, and particularly in non-weed-friendly states and jurisdictions, are throwing their hands in the air when it comes to weed vs. hemp, citing an inability for them or their drug dogs or their caveman testing tech to tell the difference. The entire state of Texas was just forced to decriminalize ALL cannabis possession until they can figure it out. Hey weed haters, when you’ve lost Texas…

Whatever form of national cannabis legalization we eventually get here in America will likely be a hybrid of federal law carved out here and there by individual states flexing their rights. Even states who might limit the amount of commercial cannabis activity they allow under federal legalization should embrace the end of the confusion that currently plagues our law makers and law keepers. It is not helping anyone.


Whether it has impacted you personally or not, there is no denying that the war on weed has been racially charged from the very beginning. Some people reading this might even take offense to our use of the word ‘marijuana’, but we choose to channel our rage at the real-world racism that has been, and continues to be, applied to the unjust attempt to vilify the cannabis plant. You can close your eyes and point to any part of a map of the United States and you’ll find a place in America in 2019 where black people are at least 3-4x more likely to be arrested for cannabis than a white person, even though both consume the plant in equal amounts. In some cities, like NYC for example, that ratio has jumped as high as 15:1.

At the root of this racism is the Controlled Substances Act and the DEA tasked with enforcing its targeting of minority communities. The CSA implemented ‘mandatory minimum’ sentencing guidelines for drug crimes, stripping judges from their ability to assign penalties based on the severity of the crime. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that there are 5x as many Americans in prison today compared to 1970 because “[mandatory minimum] laws have replaced judicial discretion across a wide range of offenses. Their aim is to keep those who violate certain laws in prison for longer periods of time.”

Even post-legalization, states like Colorado have seen cannabis-related arrests remain higher among people of color than among their Caucasian peers and that all traces back to Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. Persecution (and prosecution) of harmless cannabis consumers persists in the same communities now being forced to allocate resources to expunging the records of past racist cannabis arrests. It is a Mobius Loop of injustice and it is unsustainable in a society that revolves around the rule of law.

Meanwhile, what exactly did the Controlled Substances Act or the DEA do to prevent or punish decades of ongoing pill-pushing by opioid manufacturers, reps, and dirty doctors? Not a damn thing, that’s what.


The CSA currently gives law enforcement — not scientists or health professionals or even elected officials — the final say on how new drugs should be scheduled and whether or not old drugs should be rescheduled. Should we be surprised that the DEA has blocked any reform of this flawed framework? They have all the power! That needs to change.

We propose that the entire CSA be deleted. The current five-category system is a joke that even grade school children can recognize as a fraud. Any chart that lists cannabis as being more harmful than alcohol or cigarettes has got to go. This Act has remained virtually unchanged over the course of the past 49 years and nine presidents even though cannabis has evolved from a hippy habit to a billion-dollar business in that same period. Tear it up and start over.

It is long past the time to start treating drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue and so, as we have written before, the DEA needs to be reassigned immediately. Any overhaul of the way that we categorize drugs in this country should be done by actual researchers and scientists and should be based on factual, peer-reviewed studies all of which need to be easily accessible by the public. We need an unbiased and independent scientific process written into law regarding the criminalization and/or regulation of any new or existing drugs and not one cop or prosecutor – from the Department of Justice down to local deputies – should have a say in how that law is amended.


House Resolution 3884 was introduced by Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) earlier this year and seeks to set federal mandates for equity and expungement programs for state-level cannabis markets. But the bill, if passed as currently written, will also COMPLETELY REMOVE cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and will open the floodgates for other pro-cannabis legislation currently jammed up in Washington D.C. To this day, no cannabis-focused bill has been able to advance to the floor of the House for a full Congressional vote but our sources in the nation’s capital say that this one has a real chance of breaking that mold.

You can help! Our buds over at Veterans Cannabis Coalition have made it very easy to do so.

From any smartphone, simply text VCC to 52886 or you can visit THIS LINK

It costs you nothing but a couple of minutes of your time. You’ll be asked some basic questions and then an email in your name will be automatically sent to your local lawmakers encouraging them to support this landmark legislation.

Please share the image below as far as you can. This is how we plant the seed for a better tomorrow for all cannabis lovers.

Post by Jack Riordan

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