DEA denies reality, rejects reclassification of cannabis

There’s an old saying, “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.” This is especially true when it comes to the War on Drugs, waged initially by Richard Nixon. NORML reports, in 1972 the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse – chaired by former Pennsylvania Governor Raymond P. Shafer – recommended “[that the] possession of marihuana for personal use no longer be an offense, [and that the] casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration, no longer be an offense.” Adding, “The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.”

The Nixon Administration rejected those recommendations and placed cannabis (the scientific name of marihuana or marijuana – the spelling has changed over time) on Schedule I of the list of Controlled Substances. The DEA classifies “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals… as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

In 2011 the Governors of Rhode Island and Washington petitioned the DEA “to reclassify cannabis for medical use from a Schedule I controlled substance to a Schedule II [substance].” It took nearly 5 years for the DEA to respond. And the response was a very wordy “no!”

A summary of the response states, “DEA has denied two petitions to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). In response to the petitions, DEA requested a scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which was conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in consultation with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Based on the legal standards in the CSA, marijuana remains a schedule I controlled substance because it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse.”

In the more detailed response, the DEA states, “there are no adequate safety studies; there are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts; and the scientific evidence is not widely available.” Adding, “At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”

The reasons for this lack of studies on the “safety and efficacy of cannabis” is because of government interference and prohibition. Because cannabis is illegal at the federal level it is nearly impossible to get FDA approval for a study on the safety or efficacy of cannabis. Which means the studies that are done have a smaller number of participants than is recognized as being scientifically valid. In rejecting the petition to reclassify cannabis, the DEA also announced “a policy change designed to foster research by expanding the number of DEA- registered marijuana manufacturers…. [this] new policy will allow additional entities to apply to become registered with DEA so that they may grow and distribute marijuana for FDA-authorized research purposes.” Adding, “This change illustrates DEA’s commitment to working together with the FDA and NIDA to facilitate research concerning marijuana and its components.”

While some are applauding the DEA on allowing expanded growth & distribution of cannabis for FDA-authorized research purposes, the DEA policies are still out of sync with laws in 25 states and the District of Columbia which allow for the medical use of cannabis, with certain restrictions. Maybe the DEA chief should read the Shafer Commission report again and again until he remembers: “The actual and potential harm of use of [cannabis] is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior.”