In response to a letter from seven U.S. Senators including Elizabeth Warren, the DEA has indicated it will review its classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance within the first half of 2016.
“DEA understands the widespread interest in the prompt resolution to these petitions and hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016,”
DEA said in a 25-page response.
Warren’s original letter asks the DEA to acknowledge the mainstreaming of medical marijuana. “While the federal government has emphasized research on the potential harms associated with the use of marijuana, there is still very limited research on the potential health benefits of marijuana — despite the fact that millions of Americans are now eligible by state law to use the drug for medical purposes.”
DEA drug scheduling, under the Controlled Substances Act, classifies substances based on their medical uses and potential for abuse. Currently, marijuana is grouped with heroin as a Schedule I substance, a category that is reserved for drugs deemed the most dangerous, highly addictive and of no medicinal value. Comparatively, methamphetamine, cocaine and most prescription painkillers that are currently part the opioid epidemic fall into the Schedule II category, a classification which permits doctors to prescribe them and researchers to access them for studies.
The Reschedule 420 smoke-in demonstration in front of the White House on April 2, 2016 (Photo by John Kagia/Whaxy).
While experts and advocates agree that cannabis should be de-scheduled completely, rescheduling the plant as a Schedule II substance would allow for more collaborative medical research and fewer criminal penalties for possessing marijuana. Currently, medical marijuana research is done on a small scale in the United States or in other countries with favorable legislation.
In their response to lawmakers, the DEA mentions that between 2000-2015, it provided marijuana to researchers at a rate of about 9 per year. The bureaucratic complexity of doing legal cannabis research has led many universities and organizations to abandon it all together.
“That number is totally insufficient to meet public health needs and to answer the number of [research] questions that pop up yearly,”
said John Hudak of the Brookings Institute. “People just aren’t applying because of all the headaches involved.”
While the DEA’s letter might be good news for marijuana advocates, acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg made clear last year that he has no intention of rescheduling marijuana, despite promising research, millions of people providing anecdotal evidence and legal medical marijuana programs in 23 states.
“If you want me to say that marijuana’s not dangerous, I’m not going to say that because I think it is. Do I think it’s as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I’m not an expert,”
said Rosenberg. He later admitted that marijuana is not as harmful as heroin, a nod to the political agenda of drug scheduling. Similar proposals to reschedule cannabis made in 2000 and 2006 were also rejected by the DEA.
“Almost half the states in the country have medical cannabis laws and major groups like the American Nurses Association and the American College of Physicians are on board,” said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority. He also suggested that the Obama Administration should use executive powers to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II substance before he leaves office.
Hundreds of peaceful protesters who agree with Angell gathered in front of the White House for one of the largest smoke-in demonstrations in history on Saturday April 2 (click here to see photos from the rally).
Feature photo credit: John Kagia