The DEA today again refused to reschedule marijuana, arguing that its therapeutic value has not been scientifically proven. The move rejecting a rescheduling petition from two governors comes despite medical marijuana being legal in half the states and in the face of an ever-increasing mountain of evidence of marijuana's medicinal utility.
"DEA has denied two petitions to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)," the agency said in a press release
. "In response to the petitions, DEA requested a scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which was conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in consultation with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Based on the legal standards in the CSA, marijuana remains a schedule I controlled substance because it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse."
Today's action marks at least the fourth time the DEA has rejected petitions seeking to reschedule marijuana. The effort to get the DEA to move marijuana off the same schedule as heroin has been going on since 1972, and once again has garnered the same result.
The move comes despite the expansion of state medical marijuana laws at least three more states will vote on it this year -- and a growing clamor for change, including from members of Congress. Just yesterday, the National Conference of State Legislatures adopted a resolution calling on the federal government to move marijuana off Schedule I.
The agency did announce one policy change that could make it easier to conduct marijuana research. It said it would end the University of Mississippi's monopoly on the production of marijuana for research purposes by granting growing licenses to a limited number of other universities.
But that was not nearly enough for marijuana reform advocates, who scorched the agency for its continuing refusal to move the drug off of Schedule I, if not outside the purview of the Controlled Substances Act altogether.
"This decision is further evidence that the DEA doesn't get it. Keeping marijuana at Schedule I continues an outdated, failed approach -- leaving patients and marijuana businesses trapped between state and federal laws," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
The DEA again refuses to acknowledge marijuana's medicinal utility. (Creative Commons/Wikipedia)
"The DEA's refusal to remove marijuana from Schedule I is, quite frankly, mind-boggling. It is intellectually dishonest and completely indefensible. Not everyone agrees marijuana should be legal, but few will deny that it is less harmful than alcohol and many prescription drugs. It is less toxic, less addictive, and less damaging to the body," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project
"We are pleased the DEA is finally going to end NIDA's monopoly on the cultivation of marijuana for research purposes. For decades it has been preventing researchers from exploring the medical benefits of marijuana. It has also stood in the way of any scientific inquiries that might contradict the DEA's exaggerated claims about the potential harms of marijuana or raise questions about its classification under Schedule I," Tvert continued.
"The DEA's announcement is a little sweet but mostly bitter. Praising them for it would be like rewarding a student who failed an exam and agreed to cheat less on the next one. Removing barriers to research is a step forward, but the decision does not go nearly far enough. Marijuana should be completely removed from the CSA drug schedules and regulated similarly to alcohol," he concluded.
"For far too long, federal regulations have made clinical investigations involving cannabis needlessly onerous and have placed unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on marijuana that do not exist for other controlled substances, including some other schedule I controlled substances," said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML.
"While this announcement is a significant step toward better facilitating and expanding clinical investigations into cannabis' therapeutic efficacy, ample scientific evidence already exists to remove cannabis from its schedule I classification and to acknowledge its relative safety compared to other scheduled substances, like opioids, and unscheduled substances, such as alcohol," he continued. "Ultimately, the federal government ought to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal intrusion.
It is time for Congress to step up, Armentano said.
The DEA's approach. (DEA)
"Since the DEA has failed to take such action, then it is incumbent that members of Congress act swiftly to amend cannabis' criminal status in a way that comports with both public and scientific opinion. Failure to do so continues the federal government's 'Flat Earth' position; it willfully ignores the well-established therapeutic properties associated with the plant and it ignores the laws in 26 states recognizing marijuana's therapeutic efficacy," he said.
He wasn't the only one.
"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. "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. This unfortunate decision only further highlights the need for Congress to pass legislation curtailing the ability of DEA and other federal agencies to interfere with the effective implementation of state marijuana laws. A clear and growing majority of American voters support legalizing marijuana outright and the very least our representatives should do is let states implement their own policies, unencumbered by an outdated 'Reefer Madness' mentality that some in law enforcement still choose to cling to."
Given that the DEA and the executive branch have proven -- once again! -- unwilling to remove the ideological blinders from their eyes, it is now indeed up to Congress. Perhaps after this coming election cycle, in which we are likely to see more states vote to approve medical marijuana and even more vote to just legalize it, Congress will see the writing on the wall.