The United States of America is a global leader in many categories. From innovation and technology to education and wealth creation, the U.S. is undeniably a heavyweight here on the third stone from the sun. When it comes to cannabis reform, however, we are definitely late to the party.

Late to the party

As it stands, 24 individual states and the District of Columbia have acknowledged the benefits of medical cannabis and enacted some sort of laws regulating patient access. Regardless, the federal government still refuses to lift its antiquated and shameful ban on cannabis or take any real steps toward righting the obvious wrong of prohibition.

The Obama administration has wagged its finger at overzealous police forces, but nothing has been done to change ineffective, if not destructive, drug policies. The DEA still classifies cannabis in Schedule I (without medical use and among the most dangerous drugs in existence). This is despite so much evidence to the contrary, it’s gotten plain embarrassing.

Countries all over the world have begun regulating cannabis to various degrees. Fourteen member nations of the European Union (EU) already have medical cannabis regulations in place. Macedonia looks like the next on the list to see the “green” light. Colombia, Jamaica, and the Netherlands are all making moves toward legalization as well.

International herb

The United Nations recently held a General Assembly Special Session on drug policy at the request of Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala. Unfortunately, even though the U.S. hosts the UN—which includes the entire EU—in New York, U.S. drug policies ignore the positions of many EU nations.


Most notably, our neighbors in Canada and Mexico have both called for the UN to exempt cannabis from its worldwide drug control treaty. It was signed in 1961, before many of the wondrous and sometimes life-saving medical properties of the common herb were discovered. We are about to be sandwiched between two fellow UN countries with smarter, more appropriate, and more commerce-friendly laws regarding cannabis than we have, and we are supposed to be leading this union. Something has to change here.

Talk less, do more—lead


The U.S. needs to start taking real, concrete steps toward a more sensible approach to regulating cannabis. Reclassify it to a lower schedule. Let doctors, including those at the VA, prescribe it at their medical discretion while the plant undergoes the thorough study it deserves. Even better, allow free adults to exercise freedom of choice in a free society: Remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances altogether, so it can be regulated like the deadly duo that is alcohol and tobacco.

Or, maybe start by calling a meeting of nations to modify the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to exclude cannabis in light of the mountains of new data available today.

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The U.S. is a leader among the nations of the world in a number of important areas. Sadly, when it comes to cannabis, we’ve taken a back seat to the leadership of others. The cannabis freedom movement, however, is alive and thriving. Whatever the U.S. decides to do about that, it had better do it fast if it doesn’t want to be left in the dust for this long-overdue medical and economic revolution.


Born in Arizona and raised in Maryland and Guinea, West Africa, Zach Brown claims the D.C. metro area as his home turf. He is currently back in Africa writing, teaching English as a second language, and making music in Bamako, Mali. Zach is an Eagle Scout who earned a B.A. in English from the University of Maryland. He was also president of the UMD chapters of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and SSDP (Students for Sensible Drug Policy).

Do you believe cannabis should be legal for medical or personal use, or both? Share your views in the comments below!