Drug Policy Alliance: Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Refuses to Reschedule Marijuana

Agency Removes Separate Research Barrier, Ending Monopoly on Research;  Drug Policy Alliance: Next Administration Must End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 11, 2016.  Today, the DEA announced that it was not rescheduling marijuana, in effect refusing to recognize marijuana’s medicinal benefits. But in what is viewed as a victory for the marijuana reform movement, the DEA said that it was ending its monopoly on marijuana research.

“Keeping marijuana in Schedule I shows that the DEA continues to ignore research, and places politics above science,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.  “In reality, marijuana should be descheduled and states should be allowed to set their own policies.”

One move that was positive was eliminating obstacles to research. “Ending the DEA-enforced NIDA monopoly is a very welcome move that will enable more research,” said Collins.

For decades, the DEA has promoted an unjustified monopoly on research-grade marijuana for use in federally-approved studies – which effectively made it impossible for scientists to put marijuana through clinical trials to demonstrate it meets FDA standards for medical safety and efficacy.  Marijuana is the only substance that DEA has prohibited from being produced by private laboratories for scientific research. Although the DEA licenses multiple privately-funded manufacturers of virtually all other scheduled drugs, it currently permits just one facility – operated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – to supply marijuana to scientists. And NIDA has a long track record of obstructing medical marijuana research – by manufacturing intractable delays, providing poor quality research material, and not providing marijuana for multiple FDA-approved studies. The announcement today should change that reality.

The DEA has been forced to respond to Congressional movement on marijuana. The CARERS Act, sponsored by Senators Booker, Paul, and Gillibrand, contains provisions to end the DEA-mandated NIDA monopoly. Last year, the Obama Administration removed other research barriers that CARERS sought to eliminate.

“Marijuana prohibition ruins thousands of lives every year through meaningless arrests – disproportionately impacting people of color. Thankfully, voters in numerous states are legalizing marijuana through ballot initiatives. The next Administration must move quickly to end federal prohibition, and undo this destructive and racially-biased policy” added Collins.

Related Material:

DPA Fact Sheet: Medical Marijuana (English/Spanish)

DPA Fact Sheet: Removing Marijuana From the Controlled Substances Act

DPA Blog: Rescheduling Marijuana Is Not A Magic Bullet

Related Article:

National Public Radio

DEA Rejects Attempt To Loosen Federal Restrictions On Marijuana

By: Carrie Johnson, August 10, 2016

The Obama administration has denied a bid by two Democratic governors to reconsider how it treats marijuana under federal drug control laws, keeping the drug for now, at least, in the most restrictive category for U.S. law enforcement purposes.

Drug Enforcement Administration chief Chuck Rosenberg says the decision is rooted in science. Rosenberg gave “enormous weight” to conclusions by the Food and Drug Administration that marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” and by some measures, it remains highly vulnerable to abuse as the most commonly used illicit drug across the nation.

“This decision isn’t based on danger. This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine,” he said, “and it’s not.”

Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, alongside heroin and LSD, while other, highly addictive substances including oxycodone and methamphetamine are regulated differently under Schedule II of the law. But marijuana’s designation has nothing to do with danger, Rosenberg said.

In a letter to the petitioners, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and New Mexico nurse practitioner Bryan Krumm, Rosenberg said doctors are responsible for treating patients, but the FDA makes decisions about drug safety: “Simply put, evaluating the safety and effectiveness of drugs is a highly specialized endeavor.”

Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, said in a statement that the decision was disappointing.

“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,” he wrote.

Most Americans support legalization, Angell wrote, and the federal government should at a minimum leave regulatory decisions to the states.

Drug enforcers insist they are supportive of efforts to advance scientific research on marijuana. The DEA said it has “never denied” an application from a researcher to use lawfully produced marijuana in a rigorous medical study, and Rosenberg pointed out that research continues on a variety of subjects, including the effects of smoking marijuana in human subjects.

In December 2015, federal authorities said, they made it easier for researchers conducting clinical trials on cannabidiol, a component of marijuana. Some scientists are studying whether the substance can help treat childhood epilepsy. “That would be a wonderful and welcome development,” the DEA letter said, “but we insist that CBD research, or any research, be sound, scientific and rigorous before a product can be authorized for medical use.”

What’s more, federal authorities said, they are increasing the amount of marijuana available for legitimate research. They said they will open up new avenues for more people and institutions to manufacture marijuana for scientific purposes. Currently, the University of Mississippi is the only such site in the U.S.

“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,” Rosenberg said. “If our understanding of the science changes, that could very well drive a new decision.”

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia allow some form of medical marijuana use, but the federal government has not taken that step despite prodding from federal lawmakers. Last month, the Democratic National Committee endorsed the idea of loosening federal restrictions on marijuana and “providing a reasoned platform for future legalization” in its platform.

For now, there remain two ways to change the federal government’s classification of marijuana: for a host of federal agencies including the DEA and FDA to sign off; or for Congress to pass a law, and for the president to sign it.