The federal status of marijuana may be about to change. This could mean a windfall of approved studies and funding for the medical uses of marijuana across the country, and increased access for patients in states where cannabis and cannabis-derived oils and medicines are still illegal. In a December 21, 2015 letter to senators, the United States’ Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) stated that it will decide whether marijuana will be reclassified in federal legal areas before July of 2016 – or over the next three months, according to Femer of the Huffington Post. Although the DEA has not said whether it will reclassify cannabis to allow for less strict punishments for possession and use in the United States, there is certainly the promise of that possibility.
A Letter from Senators Requesting Info on Marijuana Research Capabilities
The DEA letter is a response to Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts’ (and seven other senators) request that the United States’ federal government to be responsible for making research opportunities more available in the arena of cannabis’ medical benefits. Warren’s letter was sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the federal government, and also requested information concerning the current and future policies of the organizations on cannabis research. Additional senators who signed the letter were Barbara Mikulski of Maryland; Barbara Boxer of California; Ron Wyden of Oregon; Jeff Merkley of Oregon; Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts; and Cory Booker of New Jersey – all are democrats. The purpose of the letter, as noted on Elizabeth Warren’s website, was to highlight “the unique opportunity and important role federal agencies have to collaborate with states to conduct population-based, clinical, and other basic research on marijuana.” In a perfect statement concerning the letter and the future and present of cannabis-assisted medicinal applications, the senators stated “It is important that we make a concerted effort to understand how this drug works and how it can best serve patients through appropriate methods of use and doses, like any other prescribed medicine.” Hurrah! And it’s about damn time!
Elimination of the Public Health Service Board
The letter also noted that the Health and Human Services’ recent decision to eliminate the Public Health Service board which “slowed the research process’ was a fantastic idea. Up until June 22, 2015, marijuana research required four complicated and extremely time-consuming steps: one, submitting a study proposal to the Food and Drug Administration to determine its scientific validity and ethical soundness; resubmit your proposal to the Public Health Service board for “pretty much the exact same review”; obtain a marijuana permit from the DEA; and finally obtain medical marijuana legally from the Drug Supply Program at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Yes, this was the only place you can legally obtain marijuana for a federally-funded and -approved marijuana study prior to July of 2015.
NIDA’s Current Cannabis Research
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has funded “a wide range of research on marijuana (cannabis),” according to its website. This research has included delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and chemicals which are related to THC. Research has been primarily focused on the negative effects of marijuana use and abuse, especially among adolescents, drivers, prenatal brains, and the “Social, behavioral, and public health and safety impacts of policy changes related to marijuana” – by this they mean the ill effects of marijuana legalization on society. To be fair, NIDA’s research has also included the brain’s endocannabinoid system and its roles in pain, mental illnesses, and HIV/AIDS, as well as the potential therapeutic uses of cannabinoids and THC in pain, HIV/AIDS, addiction, and “other health conditions.” If the DEA decides to declassify marijuana (highly unlikely) as a drug in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), then medical cannabis research is off to the races; if it decides to lower the classification of cannabis to a level below its current class one level (a very real possibility), cannabis research will be able to at least proceed at a reasonable clip in the very near future. Although most of the DEA’s letter consisted of a defense of its current cannabis medical research policy, it also admitted it was being pressured by other organizations and individuals to increase transparency, access, and availability of medical cannabis studies in the United States.