Cannabis Classification Confusion

When it comes to the terminology surrounding laws in the United States they can be a bit confusing. It seems that there is much confusion surrounding terms such as legalization, decriminalization, rescheduling and descheduling. Well, in the end, any of these options are better than the draconian cannabis laws that United States citizens have been faced with for decades however they all offer different benefits and mean completely different things.

To fully understand what each of these terms mean you must first understand how cannabis is scheduled at this time. According to the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis is listed as a schedule 1 narcotic meaning that it has no medical benefits and has a very high risk of addiction according to the federal government. This means under this classification that cannabis is highly illegal to be possessed, grown, or consumed by anyone for any reason under federal law. In an attempt to remove some of this confusion let’s take a look at each of these terms more in depth and what each of them would mean for cannabis consumers as well as patients.


Legalization is a term that you hear very often surrounding cannabis today. Legalization is what has occurred in many states across the United States today. For example, the states of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and California have all legalized cannabis for recreational or retail purposes for adults over the age of 21. What this means is that the state has implemented regulations and laws surrounding the purchase, manufacturing, and consumption of cannabis in their states. In addition to these 8 states, there is a total of 28 states that have legalized cannabis specifically for medical purposes. What this means is that these states have implemented a regulatory system surrounding the manufacturing, possession, and consumption of cannabis for qualifying medical patients. When you hear the term legalization it is best to think of regulation as that is basically what legalization is. Legalization involves a regulatory framework that puts limitations upon what can and cannot be done.


Decriminalization is another term that you hear very often. Across the United States, there are many states that have decriminalized cannabis as well as specific cities and counties within states. Decriminalization is different from legalization in the aspect that there are is no legal regulatory framework in place to oversee the possession, growing, manufacturing and consumption of the plant. Decriminalization, however, means that laws have been changed to remove criminal charges associated with the plant within certain parameters and often they are simply replaced with a fine. Decriminalization does not provide a system in which patients or consumers can legally obtain the product however if they are caught in possession of it the crime in which they are charged with is a civil charge rather than a criminal one. This means that in cities and states that decriminalized cannabis what previously could have netted someone serious jail time and a criminal record would now simply yield them a small fine and perhaps some counseling.


Rescheduling cannabis deals specifically with how cannabis is listed on the Controlled Substances Act according to the United States Federal government. There are many advocates and activists that have rallied have cannabis rescheduled as a Schedule 2 or Schedule 3 substance. Rescheduling would not remove criminal charges associated with existing cannabis laws however it would remove barriers such the ones currently being faced by those looking to research cannabis as well as the hurdles that legal and regulated cannabis businesses currently face with banking. Rescheduling cannabis, however, could essentially reframe how the industries are addressed in states that have chosen to implement their own legalization framework. For example, if cannabis was rescheduled to a Schedule 2 substance according to the Controlled Substances Act it would open up the doors for research to be performed however it could essentially hand over the cannabis industry to the pharmaceutical companies. A Schedule 2 or 3 classification would recognize the medical applications of cannabis and could open the doors for medical professionals to have the ability to prescribe cannabis which could be a win, however it could also mean that the federal government will take over the current industries and all regulations would be set by them allowing them to ultimately control what types of medicine are available and could put an end to the current retail market in legalized states.


This is what we are ultimately after as green leaf warriors. Descheduling cannabis would completely remove it from the Controlled Substances Act. This would mean a complete end to prohibition and would essentially recognize that cannabis is as safe as the fruits and vegetables that grandma grows in her garden and remove any criminal penalties or implications surrounding it on the federal level. In my opinion, the only way to truly show respect for this plant is to advocate for descheduling. The option to consume cannabis is a human right that has long been denied to people around the globe. Prohibition has taken countless lives and sent many others into a downward spiral. It is time that prohibition comes to a complete end and the only way to truly do this is to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act in which it should have never been listed on in the first place.

Article courtesy of Expert Contributor: AshleyP from CannaLance (, @CannaLance, @MJWriter87)