White House relaxes marijuana research policy

Will allow more facilities to grow marijuana for research purposes

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Thursday declined to reconsider how it classifies marijuana under federal drug control laws, leaving in place a discrepancy regarding medical marijuana use between federal and state laws.

The decision means DEA will continue to classify marijuana under its most restrictive drug category. Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug. Other drugs in that category include lysergic acid diethylamide and heroin.

According to the Washington Post, laws in 25 states and Washington, D.C., allow some degree of medical marijuana use, while federal law does not permit such use. Four states—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—and the District of Columbia permit adults to use marijuana recreationally.

DEA chief says decision based on science, not danger

DEA Chief Chuck Rosenberg said the agency based its decision on science, citing FDA's conclusions that marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." He said, "This decision isn't based on danger. The decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by ... FDA, is safe and effective medicine ... and it's not." According to the Washington Post, FDA's findings prohibit DEA from reclassifying marijuana.

Further, Rosenberg said marijuana is highly vulnerable to misuse, noting that it is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.

DEA will increase amount of marijuana available for research

However, DEA said it will create new ways for individuals and institutions to produce marijuana for scientific research.

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Rosenberg said, "As long as folks abide by the rules, and we're going to regulate that, we want to expand the availability, the variety, the type of marijuana available to legitimate researchers." He added, "If our understating of the science changes, that could very well drive a new decision."

Currently, the University of Mississippi is the only site in the United States that produces marijuana intended for scientific use for the federal government. DEA in a statement said its 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."

According to the New York Times, it is not clear how many additional facilities will be permitted to produce marijuana for scientific purposes under DEA's new policy. However, the policy likely will significantly increase the amount marijuana available for research.

Reaction

Tom Angell, founder and chair of the marijuana advocacy group Marijuana Majority, called DEA's decision not to reconsider marijuana's classification disappointing. He said, "President Obama always said he would let science—and not ideology—dictate policy, but in this case his administration is upholding a failed drug war approach instead of looking at real, existing evidence that marijuana had medical value."

Kevin Sabet—president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana President, which opposes reclassifying marijuana—said his group is "pleased" the administration "understands the science the way we do and almost every single medical association in the country understands it."

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John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said DEA's decision to expand limits on marijuana production for scientific research will "create a supply of research-grade marijuana that is diverse, but more importantly, it will be competitive and you will have growers motivated to meet the demand of researchers."

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) applauded DEA's decision to expand limits on marijuana production for research, but said the agency should do more. He stated, "This decision...is further evidence that ... DEA doesn't get it," adding, "Keeping marijuana at Schedule I continues an outdated, failed approach—leaving patients and marijuana businesses trapped between state and federal laws" (Bernstein, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 8/10; Johnson, NPR, 8/10; Johnson, Reuters, 8/11; Saint Louis/Apuzzo, New York Times, 8/10; DEA statement, 8/11).

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