One of the most powerful committees in Congress is pointing out that marijuana’s designation as a Schedule I drug has created unnecessary and harmful barriers to research.
“The Committee is concerned that restrictions associated with Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act effectively limit the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain schedule 1 drugs, especially marijuana or its component chemicals and certain synthetic drugs,” the U.S. House Appropriations Committee wrote this week in a report accompanying legislation funding federal health and education programs for 2018.
“At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs, we should be lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research,” the committee continued.
Referring to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which oversees federal drug research, the panel wrote, “The Committee directs NIDA to provide a short report on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule 1 substances.”
But the committee’s leadership isn’t necessarily in favor of broad marijuana reform.
The panel is “concerned that States are changing public policies related to marijuana without the benefit of scientific research to help guide those decisions,” the report says. “NIDA is encouraged to continue supporting a full range of research on the effects of marijuana and its components, including research focused on policy change and implementation across the country.”
Supporters of legalizing marijuana have long decried its status under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. That category — which is supposed to be reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical value — means that scientists who wish to study cannabis’s medical effects must jump through extra hoops that are not required for research on other substances.
Given that, it’s surprising that the directives in the new House committee report are similar to language suggested to lawmakers by a coalition involving some of the country’s most ardent legalization opponents.
A group called Friends of NIDA included the committee report recommendations in a recently-published submission to Congress.
Its Board of Scientific Advisors includes vocal prohibitionists like Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, former White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), former National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Robert DuPont and former Office of National Drug Control Policy staffer Bertha Madras, according to the group’s letterhead.
All have specifically argued against rescheduling marijuana, so the recommendation from a group they are in charge of advising on science took reformers by surprise.
Separately, on Wednesday, several members of Congress criticized marijuana’s Schedule I status in a hearing on reauthorizing the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, commonly referred to as the drug czar’s office.
“I don’t understand why it’s a schedule I,” said Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), one of the nation’s leading elected conservative firebrands. “I would encourage the powers that be, whoever you need to consult with in the administration, to at least explore whether or not it’s scheduled correctly.”
Richard Baum, acting drug czar, told Gowdy that the Trump administration “doesn’t have a position on that.”
Democrat Gerry Connolly of Virginia also spoke up during the hearing. “There was no empirical evidence to justify putting marijuana 50 years ago as a Schedule I drug,” he said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, in the waning months of the Obama administration, rejected petitions to reschedule cannabis.