As the saying goes, politics makes strange bedfellows.
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.
Now a coalition of pro-prohibition advocates also appears to be criticizing marijuana’s Schedule I designation, a document posted online by the U.S. Government Publishing Office on Wednesday reveals.
In written testimony to the Senate subcommittee that handles funding for federal drug research programs, a group called Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (FNIDA) requested that lawmakers issue a report saying the following:
“The Committee is also concerned that restrictions associated with Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act effectively limit the amount or type of research that can be conducted on marijuana or its component chemicals. NIDA is encouraged to continue supporting a full range of research on the effects of marijuana and its components, including policy research focused on policy change and implementation across the country. The Committee also directs NIDA to provide a short report on the barriers to research that result from the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance.”
FNIDA describes itself as “a coalition of over 150 scientific and professional societies, patient groups and other organizations committed to preventing and treating substance use disorders.”
Its Board of Scientific Advisors includes several of the nation’s most vocal legalization opponents, including 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. (Kennedy and Madras are also members of a Trump administration commission currently studying opioid issues.)
FNIDA’s executive committee includes representatives of Partnership for a Drug-free America and Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, the letterhead says.
The coalition’s request for language criticizing marijuana’s Schedule I status stands in stark contrast to comments that several of its members have made about rescheduling elsewhere.
Madras, for example, called the Drug Enforcement Administration’s denial of marijuana rescheduling petitions last August “a victory for science that, to me, is very comforting.”
Also last year, she wrote, “Is Schedule I drug a roadblock to marijuana research? Not really,” adding that moving cannabis to Schedule II would be “conceivably unethical.”
Sabet’s group called rescheduling a “red herring” in a 2015 report, saying that it would not “solve the problem of the need for more research, and instead would likely encourage illegal operators to continue to manufacture inferior products.”
In a Huffington Post piece, he wrote that discussion about reclassifying marijuana is “distracting and essentially meaningless” and doing so would “mainly serve as a symbolic victory for marijuana advocates.”
In a 2013 law review article, Sabet argued that “it is not necessary for marijuana to be rescheduled in order for legitimate research to proceed. Schedule I status does not prevent a product from being tested and researched for potential medical use.” (He did acknowledge that “additional Schedule I restrictions can delay a research program,” and in a 2015 Senate hearing, under intense questioning from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), was forced to admit that moving marijuana to Schedule II would make it “absolutely easier to research.”)
Kennedy and DuPont joined Sabet in signing a 2014 Smart Approaches to Marijuana letter asking the Obama administration not to reschedule marijuana, claiming that a change in status would be “scientifically dubious” and “is not necessary to facilitate research.”
As drug czar, McCaffrey argued that marijuana “can’t be moved to Schedule two.”
The seemingly pro-rescheduling language in the newly released Senate document was part of FNIDA’s submission asking the Senate committee to include directives in a report attached to legislation funding the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a federal agency that supports and oversees research on the effects of drugs.
The College on Problems of Drug Dependence made a request for identical language, according to the Senate document.
But even while the groups are now asking Congress to address “the barriers to research that result” from marijuana’s Schedule I status, don’t mistake them for legalization converts.
They also requested language reading:
“The Committee is concerned that marijuana public policies in the States (medical marijuana, recreational use, etc.) are being changed without the benefit of scientific research to help guide those decisions… The need to increase our knowledge about the effects of marijuana is most important now that decisions are being made about its approval for medical use and/or its legalization. We support NIDA in its efforts to find successful approaches to these difficult problems.”
Friends of NIDA and Sabet did not respond to MassRoots’s request for comment for this story.