Although an understanding of how the federal government classifies and regulates controlled substances may not have much relevance to many of the hot-button drug policy topics, it is still an incredibly worthy concern in its own right. This essay calls attention to this important but critically under-examined area of drug control by focusing on two key aspects of the CSA: classification and research. Part I introduces the Controlled Substances Act. Part II analyzes the CSA‘s approach to scheduling, and I argue that the CSA‘s open-ended classification scheme fails to adequately control the scheduling of substances and gives the Drug Enforcement Administration nearly unfettered discretion to decide how to classify a drug. Regardless of one‘s views on the wisdom of prohibition, the CSA‘s byzantine scheduling structure should concern anyone with an interest in having a predictable, uniform, science-based approach to drug regulation.
Part III of this essay turns to the barriers to research the CSA imposes on Schedule I substances. This section highlights a strange feature of the CSA‘s approach to research. Schedule I substances include both substances that show early (but unproven) promise as medicines and those that we already know have no medical value. Yet, all Schedule I substances are equally—and incredibly—difficult to research. Part IV concludes that it is time for Congress to revisit the administrative provisions of the CSA. Though not as glamorous as issues like the federal response to state marijuana legalization laws, there are compelling reasons to rethink the CSA‘s classification criteria and research restrictions for Schedule I drugs.