News and Trends / Cannabis

What Is Schedule I and Why Is Marijuana on the List, Anyway?

In 1970, the federal government declared marijuana more dangerous than cocaine, meth, oxycodone and fentanyl. It's never changed its mind.
What Is Schedule I and Why Is Marijuana on the List, Anyway?
Image credit: David Fenton | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Easy Search. Quality Finds. Your partner and digital portal for the cannabis community.
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Green Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Almost every media report on marijuana legalization at the state level references the fact that cannabis remains listed as a Schedule I illegal drug in the U.S.

In another words, despite 29 states legalizing medical marijuana and eight states legalizing adult-use marijuana, the United States government still considers marijuana an illegal drug with no health benefits and a high potential for abuse.

But what exactly is a Schedule I illegal drug? Who does the scheduling and why? What are some of the other drugs on the list?

The following answer those questions and provides an overview of the five federal government drug schedules -- including the fact that the U.S. ranks marijuana as having a higher potential for abuse than cocaine, Vicodin and methamphetamines.

Related: Mexico Joins Canada In Making Cannabis Legal, Leaving the US Far Behind in Marijuana Policy.

The who and the why.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) handles enforcement of the drug schedule and oversees any changes. President Richard Nixon established the DEA in July 1973 to consolidate the federal government’s efforts in “a full-scale attack on the problem of drug abuse in America.” Until then, anti-drug policy was carried out by a number of federal agencies such as the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control. 

Nixon created the new DEA agency by executive order No. 11727, signed July 7, 1973. He had talked about the problem of drug abuse and trafficking since taking office in 1968, including a 1971 “special message” to Congress.

“The problem has assumed the dimensions of a national emergency,” he said in that message. The agency started with1,470 agents and a budget of less than $75 million. It now has about 5,000 agents and a budget of more than $2 billion.

Controversy

Nixon’s executive order also gave oversight of anti-drug efforts to the attorney general. John Mitchell, who held the position at the time, created a “schedule” of drugs as part of the 1970 Controlled Substance Act. Mitchell, later disgraced during the Watergate scandal, included marijuana on the list of drugs with no medical benefit and a high probability of abuse and addiction.

Congress approved the measure. It’s stayed there ever since.

Interestingly, marijuana had been listed as a legal medicine in the U.S. up until 1942. Even the American Medical Association initially opposed prohibiting its use, according to Scientific American, which also reported that by 1944 the La Guardia Committee report from the New York Academy of Medicine questioned making marijuana illegal.

Related: The 11 Most Important Moments in the History of the American Marijuana Industry

Officially, the prohibition against marijuana was supposed to be considered after debate on its medicinal possibilities. However, the secret tapes that Nixon made during part of his time in the White House make it clear he strongly opposed marijuana legalization.

Nixon asked for a "strong statement on marijuana” against legalization. He also said, “By God, we are going to hit the marijuana thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss…I want to hit it, against legalization and all that sort of thing.”

Schedule I

Against that backdrop, the drug schedule was created. Drugs can be rescheduled by petitioning the DEA but the agency has ignored repeated petitions to remove marijuana from Schedule I for decades.

The schedule is divided into five sections. Inclusion in each section depends on the drug’s potential medicinal uses and the potential for dependency and abuse, according to the DEA.

Schedule I drugs have the highest potential for abuse and “the potential to create psychological and/or physical dependence,” according to the DEA. That potential decreases with each subsequent schedule.

Schedule I

Considered drugs with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” They include marijuana, heroin, LSD, ecstasy, methaqualone and peyote.

Schedule II

These drugs are “also considered dangerous” with a high potential for abuse. They include Vicodin, cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall and Ritalin

Related: Science and FDA Say Cannabis Is Medicine but DEA Insists It Isn't

Schedule III

The DEA describes these drugs as having a “moderate to low potential for physical or psychological dependence.” They include products with less than 90 mm of codeine, ketamine, anabolic steroids and testosterone.

Schedule IV

These drugs are listed as having a low potential for abuse or dependence. They include Xanax, Soma, Darvon, Valium, Ativan and Ambien.

Schedule V

 Basically, products that contain low levels of narcotics, such as cough syrup. 

Follow dispensaries.com on Twitter to stay up to date on the latest cannabis news.

By Javier Hasse
From retailers to growers, producers, and suppliers, there’s a seemingly never-ending list of startup opportunities in this emerging market. In Start Your Own Cannabis Business, marijuana, biotech, and entrepreneurship reporter Javier Hasse introduces forward-thinking entrepreneurs like you to the industry and shares hard-earned tips and success stories from pioneers and visionaries in the marijuana industry.
Learn More

Latest on Green Entrepreneur

My Queue

There are no Videos in your queue.

Click on the Add to Queue next to any video to save to your queue.

There are no Articles in your queue.

Click on the Add to Queue next to any article to save to your queue.

Podcasts episodes coming soon for GreenEntrepreneur.com

There are no Podcasts in your queue.

Click on the Add to Queue next to any podcast episode on Entrepreneur.com to save to your queue.

You're not following any authors.

Click the Follow button on any author page to keep up with the latest content from your favorite authors.

Canada Makes Marijuana Farmers Eligible for Government Agriculture Programs

Entrepreneur Media, Inc. values your privacy. In order to understand how people use our site generally, and to create more valuable experiences for you, we may collect data about your use of this site (both directly and through our partners). The table below describes in more detail the data being collected. By giving your consent below, you are agreeing to the use of that data. For more information on our data policies, please visit our Cookie Policy.

Name Category
Google Ad Serving, Ad Targeting, Analytics/Measurement, Optimisation
Rubicon Ad Serving
Teads Ad Serving
Nativo Ad Serving
Teads Ad Serving
New Relic Analytics/Measurement
Log Entries Analytics/Measurement
Sailthru Content Customization