In less than three months' time, tens of millions of American voters will head to the polls to decide who will become the 45th president of the United States of America. Who their selection will be remains a mystery.
Marijuana is breaking barriers this election cycle
However, the candidates aren't the only thing voters are interested in this election cycle; they want to hear about the topics, too. For the first time ever, marijuana is taking center stage as a major issue. According to Gallup's 2015 national poll, 58% of respondents support the nationwide legalization of marijuana, up from around 33% just a decade ago. A similar poll conducted by CBS News last year showed that 84% of American favored the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes.
Americans, as a whole, are eager to see Capitol Hill change its stance on marijuana. Capitol Hill, however, isn't as excited. In fact, earlier this month the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency released a report detailing why it would not change marijuana from its current schedule 1 status. Schedule 1 drugs are deemed to have no medical benefits and are thus illegal. In its report, the DEA cited the potential for abuse and the still-unknown properties and risks of marijuana as its reasoning for not changing marijuana's long-standing schedule 1 classification.
Clinton throws her support behind rescheduling cannabis
But if Hillary Clinton is elected as the next president, changes may be coming to the cannabis industry. Based on statements from Clinton and her campaign, Clinton plans to see that marijuana is rescheduled to a schedule 2 drug if she is elected, effectively recognizing that marijuana has medical benefits and opening the door for researchers and drugmakers to research cannabis for medical ailments. Clinton has pointed to the success of individual states managing their own marijuana industries, along with those states' potential as "laboratories of democracy" to gauge whether further federal action should be taken down the road.
Because Clinton has laid out a well thought out approach on marijuana -- even if it is vastly different from her views eight year ago when she originally ran for the Oval Office -- it could net the Democratic candidate quite a few voters who favor legalization. Don't forget that rescheduling cannabis to schedule 2 would immediately allow doctors across the country to prescribe the drug for approved ailments.
Yet the irony is that Clinton's push to reschedule cannabis could actually wind up backfiring on the industry.
Rescheduling marijuana could backfire big-time
For as long as I can recall, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and other non-profit organizations have been pushing for lawmakers to remove marijuana's schedule 1 status, effectively legalizing and decriminalizing the drug at the federal level. If Clinton has her way, NORML and its peers would get that first step toward a possible full legalization. However, the move to schedule 2 could come at a mighty cost to the cannabis industry.
Current therapies that bear the schedule 2 designation include Oxycontin, Percocet, and morphine, to name a few. While these narcotics can be prescribed by a physician for pain management, they're also tightly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is the regulatory body responsible for establishing medicinal efficacy, approving medicines, regulating the manufacturing process of drugs, and overseeing the accuracy of the marketing and package labeling of therapeutics. Moving marijuana to a schedule 2 classification would, in effect, move medical marijuana into the pharmaceutical business and place the industry under the tight and costly rules and regulations of the FDA.
For example, the FDA could require all packaging and labeling be run by it prior to retail sale in medical marijuana shops. Perhaps that's not so bad, but it could certainly slow down the process through which medical marijuana makes it to store fronts.
Secondly, the FDA could tightly regulate the manufacturing process of medical marijuana grow farms. This could include ensuring that THC content from one grow to the next remains consistent and within certain guidelines. If growers aren't abiding by the strict guidelines laid out by the FDA, then they could be subject to fines, and their crops may not make it to medical marijuana dispensaries.
Yet the most damaging aspect of a schedule 2 designation could be the possibility of clinical trials. The FDA is under no obligation to take the cannabis industry at its word that marijuana has a medically beneficial effect on epilepsy or pain, as an example. Instead, the FDA could require that medical marijuana growers, processors, and retailers prove that medical marijuana can meet these primary endpoints in a traditionally run and supervised clinical trial. Clinical trials can take a long time, and they can be extremely costly. Filing for drug approval alone is a significant added cost.
FDA regulation over the marijuana industry could be a nightmare. Smaller marijuana players that can't afford the added regulatory costs could go out of business, while bigger businesses that can absorb those costs could take over. In theory, a rescheduling could give investors more legitimate ways to take part in marijuana's growth story -- but it could also inhibit competition and thereby raise the price of medical marijuana for consumers.
At the end of the day, liberating marijuana from its schedule 1 status could do more harm than good.