Marijuana

DEA Rejects Marijuana Rescheduling but Eliminates a Research Barrier

The agency won't reclassify cannabis but will make it easier for scientists to get the kind they need.

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Jacob Sullum

Today the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is expected to reject two petitions asking it to reclassify marijuana while agreeing to loosen restrictions on the supply of marijuana for medical research. Although the drug's legal status will remain the same, the DEA's willingness to allow competition among marijuana suppliers should facilitate research by removing a bureaucratic bottleneck and improving the quality and variety of cannabis available to scientists investigating the plant's medical benefits.

The Washington Post reports that the DEA, despite much speculation to the contrary, is sticking to its longstanding position that marijuana belongs in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a category supposedly reserved for drugs with "a high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use," drugs so dangerous that they cannot be used safely even under a doctor's supervision. It is doubtful that marijuana meets any of those criteria, let alone all three. But the DEA, which has wide discretion to interpret and apply the CSA criteria, has always insisted that marijuana must stay in Schedule I until its medical utility is proven by the sort of large, expensive, randomized clinical trials the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demands before approving a new pharmaceutical.

While such studies have been conducted with marijuana's main active ingredient (which is how Marinol, a capsule containing synthetic THC, was approved by the FDA in 1985) and are under way with Sativex, an oral cannabis extract spray, they have not been conducted with the whole plant. Consultation with the FDA is part of the scheduling process, and the Post reports that the agency unsurprisingly "concluded that medical and scientific data do not yet prove that marijuana is safe and effective as a medicine." The Post says that conclusion "prohibits the DEA from reclassifying the drug," which is not quite true, because the DEA is not obligated to define "currently accepted medical use" as narrowly as it does. But unless the DEA decided to repudiate that court-approved interpretation, it was inevitable that it would respond to the two latest rescheduling petitions the same way it responded to three earlier ones.

The DEA's decision to start licensing additional suppliers of marijuana is more surprising. Currently the only authorized source is the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which obtains marijuana from a contractor at the University of Mississippi. That monopoly is anomalous, since the DEA allows multiple licensees to produce other Schedule I drugs for research. Scientists have complained that NIDA, whose mission emphasizes marijuana's hazards, has been reluctant to share its stash with researchers interested in marijuana's benefits. They also have been frustrated by the mediocre quality and minimal variety of NIDA's marijuana. Although the agency recently started offering strains that are high in cannabidiol, a compound in marijuana that shows promise in treating seizures, it still does not offer the high-THC strains that some researchers are interested in studying.

Despite these problems, the DEA has until now insisted on maintaining NIDA's marijuana monopoly, which is one of the ways it has obstructed the research it says is necessary to move marijuana out of Schedule I. A 2001 attempt to get DEA approval for a private source of marijuana, backed by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), dragged on for a decade and ultimately failed, despite a positive ruling from an administrative law judge. The DEA rejected the MAPS petition in January 2009, just before Barack Obama took office. Instead of reversing that decision, Obama appointed the acting administrator who made it, Michele Leonhart, to head the agency. Now Leonhart, who famously refused to say whether marijuana is less dangerous than heroin, is gone, replaced by an acting administrator who calls medical marijuana "a joke" but apparently is willing to let researchers prove him wrong.

"As long as folks abide by the rules, and we're going to regulate that, we want to expand the availability, the variety, the type of marijuana available to legitimate researchers," Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg told NPR. "If our understanding of the science changes, that could very well drive a new decision."

Rosenberg emphasized that the decision to keep marijuana in Schedule I was based exclusively on a judgment about its medical value. "This decision isn't based on danger," he said. "This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine, and it's not." But it was the DEA that decided to equate "currently accepted medical use"—a phrase the CSA does not define—with FDA approval. The DEA has the discretion to read that phrase more generously.

Even if marijuana were rescheduled, doctors would be allowed to prescribe cannabis-based medicine only if the product was approved by the FDA. But moving marijuana to a lower schedule would have made research easier by reducing the bureaucratic hassle and institutional stigma associated with it. A move to Schedule III or lower would have made it possible for state-licensed marijuana suppliers to deduct their business expenses, thereby solving one of the newly legal industry's major financial problems. Even a move to Schedule II would eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana ads and make publications that carry them officially "mailable." At least as significant as the immediate practical effect, the federal government's implicit recognition of marijuana's medical value could have had an important impact on the public policy debate at the national and state levels.

"It's really sad that DEA has chosen to continue decades of ignoring the voices of patients who benefit from medical marijuana," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, in a press release. "President Obama always said he would let science—and not ideology—dictate policy, but in this case his administration is upholding a failed drug war approach instead of looking at real, existing evidence that marijuana has medical value."

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, was a bit more upbeat. "We appreciate the positive step—however small—of opening up a few additional avenues for medical marijuana research," he said. "But patients deserve more, and Congress should help them by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act, allowing state programs and medical research to move forward without interference."

Unlike moving marijuana from one category to another, removing it from the CSA's schedules altogether would effectively repeal the federal ban. But it is pretty clear that step would require an act of Congress, since the CSA says administrative scheduling decisions must comport with international drug control treaties, which allow medical use of cannabis but call for strict regulation.

Update: The DEA's press release announcing its decisions is here. You can read its responses to the rescheduling petitions here and here. Its new policy on marijuana for research is explained here.

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  1. “The agency won’t reclassify cannabis but will make it easier for scientists to get the kind they need.”

    CHEECH: “Hey, *I’m* a scientist, man!”

    CHONG: “What a coincidence, so am I!”

    1. Alternate joke: “Back off, man, we’re scientists.”

    2. DAVE: ‘ Hey guys,don’t leave me out ‘.

      1. “You didn’t show up, so we went ahead with the research without you.”

  2. “loosen restrictions on the supply of marijuana for medical research.”

    Paging Dr. Greenthumb

  3. Fuck the DEA, and every other unconstitutional agency of the federal government.

    -jcr

  4. Over/under on the number of states that will legalize it before the DEA reschedules it?

    1. all 54.

      1. *gasp!* we lost three states in the past couple of years!?

    2. Not to spoil the ending for anyone, but there were about thirty “wet” states before the feds gave up on prohibition 1. Giving up without learning anything is such a great ending it totally justifies all the violence.

    3. Not to spoil the ending for anyone, but there were about thirty “wet” states before the feds gave up on prohibition 1. Giving up without learning anything is such a great ending it totally justifies all the violence.

  5. Wait wait….

    I thought all it took was a swipe of BO’s pen?

    I’m shocked marijuana hasn’t been rescheduled yet. Maybe Barry just forgot.

    1. Wait until January 19, 2017.

      1. That’s when it moves to Schedule 0, where even talking about it is a felony?

        1. “Why does anyone *need* to talk about it?”

    2. I thought all it took was a swipe of BO’s pen?

      Oh, no no no. You don’t understand. The president has assured us that, as much as he’d love to reschedule marijuana, that’s outside his scope of authority and only Congress can do that.

      Unless, of course, Congress were to ever to actually decide to do it. In which case, it would be undue legislative meddling in the realm of the executive.

      So glad I could clear that up for you.

  6. Nothing to see here, just more of the same expected bullshit, as always FUCK THEM.

  7. “Dear DEA, our research materials were destroyed by fire, could you send us some more? Signed, some scientists.”

  8. If the DEA reclassifies marijuana, then they will be putting a great number of their agents out of a job.

    Talk about conflict of interest.

    1. They would also be admitting that they were wrong (and stupid) for decades. That’s a lot of damage to a lot of fragile egos.

      1. “If only you could see the many lives I’ve ruined because of marijuana! ”

        (whisper from offstage)

        “The many lives ruined by marijuana!”

        1. “The reclassification would ruin the lives of thousands more who depend on us for their jobs!”

    2. There is more than enough police work needed to prevent terrorists.switch cops from plant prohibition to real crime & terror!!

      1. Real crime is way down. If the war on drug users came to an end, I figure most police departments could do well with a quarter of their current staff. If that. After all, they don’t do shit to actually prevent crime. They just halfheartedly investigate it, and even then only if they feel like it.

        1. with states’ budgets the way they are? who’s gonna distribute the seatbelt tickets?

    3. Pulling out never works

  9. Scientists have complained that NIDA, whose mission emphasizes marijuana’s hazards, has been reluctant to share its stash with researchers interested in marijuana’s benefits. They also have been frustrated by the mediocre quality and minimal variety of NIDA’s marijuana.

    “The food in this restaurant is terrible!”

    “And such small portions!”

  10. With all of the pardons finally showing up, I thought Obama was finally finding his feet on drug policy reform. I guess this is just like everything else…. leading by following. Wait until society has moved ahead of you and then take credit for it.

    It should have been pretty easy to reclassify pot as a schedule IV. It would still be a controlled substance, after all.

    But drug policy is clearly illogical. Here’s the example list from the DEA of schedule 1 drugs:

    Some examples of substances listed in Schedule I are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), peyote, methaqualone, and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (“Ecstasy”).

    The standards that make it schedule 1

    no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision,

    Ok, uh… we know that LSD and peyote have been used in successful trials of late, and here’s what the British Journal of Psychiatry has to say on the subject of medical uses for MDMA (“Ecstasy”).

    1. Fuck that noise. It should all be legal.

      Especially LSD.

      1. It should definitely be legal but I can’t understand how anyone could enjoy LSD. Blech.

        1. The science I’d really like to see is some investigation into why people enjoy certain drugs but not others.

        2. It’s not your job to understand.

          Your job is to shut up and bring daddy his medicine.

  11. Most likely permission will be given ONLY to scientists or doctors who already judge cannabis as harmful. Nothing will change on the federal level.strange how Israeli research hospitals have successfully used pot therapy since 1999 while our government plays dumb on this issue. There are Israeli hospitals that have their own marijuana gardens.( restricted access).

    1. Aren’t most pot growing operations restricted access? I mean except the backwoods grows where it’s security through obscurity.

    2. It’s always struck me as kind of a Catch-22: drug warriors love to claim marijuana must be dangerous because it hasn’t been studied, but then they make it impossible to study because it’s dangerous.

  12. DEA: “We need to protect our phony baloney jobs. Harumph !”

  13. Drug Warriors are government employees.

    So while the Obama DOJ will put their thumb on the scale when it comes to protecting one of the Nomenklatura, they certainly will not get involved in something that might put so many dues paying drones out of work.

  14. All of these giant bureaucracies with thousands of lawyers working hundreds of hours to finally make a proclamation that the peasants may still not grow a particular flower.

    Can’t you just smell the freedom!

    1. “Can’t you just smell the freedom!”

      About the only worse outcome would be all of these giant bureaucracies with thousands of lawyers working hundreds of hours to finally make a proclamation that the peasants may grow a particular flower and the writers of Reason hailing it as part of a libertarian moment.

      Because permission, you know, is just like freedom.

  15. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.
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  16. As predicted, DEA goes FYTW.

  17. So they won’t do the thing they are allowed by the law to do, but they will make arbirary exceptions to the law as it stands.

    WTF has happened to the rule of law?

    1. In 2013, the House Over-Criminalization Task Force instructed the Congressional Research Service to provide a complete accounting of all federal crimes. The agency, however, was unable to provide the information because, according to Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, “they lack the manpower and resources to accomplish this task.” The number of criminal laws, regulations with criminal penalties and “administrative laws” a federal agency creates out of thin air is estimated to be between 300,000 and 400,000.

      THAT’S what happened to the rule of law.

      Let’s say that you start a company to make vegetable egg noodles. The noodles you make are not ribbon-shaped. How much prison time should you do [see 21 USC ?331, 343(g) & 21 CFR ?139.160(b)]?

      You’re in a national park. You roll a ball down a hill. How much prison time should you do [see 36 CFR ?2.1]?

      You’re in a national park in Washington, DC. You are playing croquet. You don’t have a permit. How much prison time should you do [see 18 USC ?1865 & 36 CFR ?7.96(b)(1)]?

      You’re in a national park in Washington, DC. You are playing croquet. You have a permit, but the ground is wet. How much prison time should you do [see 18 USC ?1865 & 36 CFR ?7.96(b)(2)]?

  18. Reschedule? No. Deschedule? Absolutely yes. We don’t need the DEA, FDA or any other federal agency regulating the intrastate sale, possession or use or cannabis. And we don’t need big Pharma or doctors to self-medicate with cannabis. Rescheduling only provides yet another obstacle to legalization of non-medical use of cannabis. I could care less if cannabis is rescheduled, despite the fact it should have never been Schedule 1 to begin with. As the proverb says “Be careful what you ask for.”

  19. The ‘research approvals’ are for the same companies that received License for disease applications several years ago.
    This current step is but a legal one, so that the FDA can legally approve of studies by Pharmas that the NIH licensed out to years ago… all the while government has been stating ‘abuse and no benefit’, which leaves control and profit, to those companies the licenses were doled out to.
    Only government can get away with saying no benefit, while creating a beneficiary set of companies.

  20. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.Reportmax90.com

  21. Anna . I agree that James `s storry is really great… last thursday I got a top of the range Mitsubishi Evo after bringing in $4828 this last 5 weeks and just over ten grand last-munth . no-doubt about it, this really is the best work I’ve ever had . I began this four months/ago and straight away started to bring in at least $87, per-hour
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  22. You can also Gmail sign in to various social media platforms like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter using your gmail email address.

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