The news came in this morning: the DEA will not reschedule cannabis at this time; it will remain a Schedule 1 drug until more research is conducted and its medicinal properties are confirmed. According to the Federal Register (the daily journal of the U.S. government), the DEA denied a petition submitted to them based on eight factors: potential for abuse, scientific evidence of pharmacological effects; state of current scientific knowledge about it; scope, duration, and significance of abuse; public risk; psychic or physiological dependence liability, and whether it’s a gateway drug. None of these are new to the DEA in association with cannabis, except scientific evidence of pharmacological effects, or whether it can be used as a medicine. The lack of scientific evidence is due to restrictive government policies, which the DEA is attempting to slacken by allowing more than one U.S. university and a few small research facilities to obtain cannabis for scientific study.
DEA Findings in the Decision
Despite the incredible surge in cannabis acceptance, consumption, and positive results reported by various medical patients from epileptics, to Alzheimer’s patients, to PTSD sufferers to those with chronic pain, the DEA has chosen not to reschedule cannabis, or marijuana as it refers to in the Federal Register report. (It did finally update the spelling of marijuana, losing the “h” that still exists in the original Scheduling document, however.) The DEA’s reasons for delaying rescheduling are: marijuana’s high potential for abuse, the fact that marijuana currently has no accepted medical use in the United States, and that there is a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Essentially, the DEA still feels that cannabis is addictive, and that there is not enough sound scientific measurement and knowledge about the plant’s psychological, pharmacological, and physiological effects for it to be bought in a grocery store like ibuprofen.
Chuck Rosenberg, DEA Chief, noted that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) findings that cannabis has no “accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” and that it is still a highly abused substance provided part of the basis for his decision, according to NPR. Rosenberg stated that marijuana is not a safe and effective medicine according to the FDA, and therefore would not be rescheduled.
What Does this Mean for the Cannabis Industry?
Although this news is disappointing to cannabis investors, cannabis businesses who had hoped to be legitimate in the eyes of the federal government, and cannabis patients who hoped to be able to cross state lines with their medications and not worry about going to jail, the response of the federal government and the DEA is hardly surprising. The federal government is not known for its rash decision-making – it’s called a bureaucracy for a reason. I have high hopes that despite its refusal to reschedule cannabis right now, competent and qualified researchers like Sue Sisley, Ryan Vandrey, and Marcel Bonn-Miller will change the DEA’s mind in the near future. As the DEA pointed out in the Federal Register announcement, it has not refused what it considers serious petitions to study cannabis in certain cases; recently it approved a PTSD treatment trial, it has also approved CTE trials and epilepsy trials for cannabis in the past.
The majority of Americans believe that cannabis is acceptable and should be legal for persons of a certain age, and approximately 33 million people currently consume cannabis in America. Whether or not the DEA or the FDA believes that is a bit inconsequential when states are allowed to make their own laws. It does, however, affect large grow operations, people who are trying to take cannabis products across state lines, and families who want cannabis therapy but live in a state where it is still illegal. With this decision comes the surety that legal states will continue to see booming economies, increased influxes of people who want cannabis therapies, and a shrinking gray area where the federal government may come in and seize large amounts of crops just because they can. To their credit, the DEA seems to want to ensure that public health is protected by only using highly qualified researchers to determine the safety and efficacy of cannabis treatments, and that’s a positive, especially for those patients who are unfamiliar with cannabis use.
How the DEA’s Decision Will Help Cannabis Research
In 2015, the government made it “easier” for researchers using cannabidiol in clinical trials, which is working toward a treatment for childhood epilepsy. The best part of the DEA’s announcement this morning is that they will increase the amount of cannabis “available for legitimate research.” In other words, the University of Mississippi will no longer be the only place where cannabis will be grown for scientific research. This is good news. Australia’s doing it; why can’t we? The DEA stated that “We want to expand the availability, the variety, the type of marijuana available to legitimate researchers…if our understanding of the science changes, that could very well drive a new decision.”
This post was originally published on August 11, 2016, it was updated on March 15, 2017.