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The DEA just wrote a letter to Congress about marijuana. It's a big deal.

What might change if the DEA 'reschedules' marijuana.

The DEA just wrote a letter to Congress about marijuana. It's a big deal.

The way state governments treat marijuana has changed a lot over the past decade.

In fact, states with more relaxed marijuana laws now outnumber states with stricter policies. In many states, governments have decriminalized marijuana, legalized the use of the compounds in marijuana for medical purposes, and even legalized weed altogether.

This gives a pretty good look at which states have decriminalized and legalized marijuana, or passed medical marijuana laws. Map from April 2016 via NORML, used with permission.


If you just look at our drug laws on the federal (not the state) level, you won’t see those changes.

According to the federal government, marijuana is still completely illegal. The Drug Enforcement Agency even categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I drug, part of the group of controlled substances that the DEA deems most dangerous.

But the DEA just sent a letter to Congress suggesting that the winds of change are blowing.

Lawmakers and activist groups have been asking the DEA to assign marijuana to a different schedule group for a while, and according to the new letter, they're about to act on that request.

"[The] DEA understands the widespread interest in the prompt resolution of these petitions and hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016," the letter stamped April 4, 2016, reads.

Something tells me this plant isn't as dangerous as the DEA thinks it is. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

"But ... wait," you may be thinking. "We're in the first half of 2016." If a federal change happens, it's happening soon. Here's what you need to know about what the new rules could mean:

A lot of people disagree with drug scheduling because it seems pretty random.

Back in the 1970s, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which created five classifications for drugs based on their potential for abuse, medical usefulness, and potential safety. According to the DEA, drugs that belong in Schedule I are the ones you definitely don't want to mess with. Schedule I substances supposedly have a high potential for abuse, no "currently accepted medical use," and are generally unsafe.

But here's the big problem: Lots of people disagree with the way the DEA and the FDA scheduled drugs in the '70s. Heroin, which is in Schedule I, was behind more than 17,000 fatal overdoses last year while marijuana hasn't caused a single fatal overdose in, well, recorded history. However, they're both in the same scheduling category.

Also, given that doctors in many states now prescribe cannabis and its chemical compounds to treat conditions like depression, arthritis, and epilepsy, there are plenty of reasons to take marijuana off the mega danger zone list.

Why does rescheduling matter that much?

One word: research.

It's really, really, really, REALLY hard to research marijuana if you're a scientist in the United States because the government heavily restricts research on Schedule I drugs. It's kind of a catch-22: We don't have many clinical trials involving marijuana, so we have limited knowledge about its medical uses and abuse potential, and it stays in Schedule I.

But according to the letter, "We [the DEA] support research on marijuana and its components that complies with applicable laws and regulations to advance our understanding about the health risks and potential therapeutic benefits of medications using marijuana or its components or derivatives."

Bottom line, rescheduling marijuana means that we would know a lot more about that little green plant, what it does, and how to use it safely. Which is important, since people in lots of states have started using the substance more freely in recent years.

Rescheduling marijuana could also mean big changes for our criminal justice system, too.

Photo via A7nubis/Wikimedia Commons.

Even if the DEA reschedules marijuana, that doesn't mean the government is going to fully decriminalize it any time soon. Thousands of people (and disproportionately people of color) are arrested for marijuana possession each year — often outpacing arrests for violent crimes.

Rescheduling could also put us closer to the FDA approving marijuana as a "safe and effective drug" with legal uses, though. Ultimately, criminal justice reform is going to take some time ... and a lot more cooperation from Congress. But this is a good start.

No matter what happens with the schedule, though, this conversation is important for a lot of reasons.

The DEA might end up keeping marijuana in the category of drugs that are even more dangerous than cocaine, meth, and steroids, but it's important that they're at least having real, nuanced discussions about cannabis. This whole thing proves that we’re moving forward, which is a good progress by any standard.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."