DEA rejects rescheduling marijuana but will open doors to more cannabis research

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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has rejected calls to remove marijuana from its list of the most dangerous drugs in the country but will take steps to make it easier for scientists to study the plant.

In a news release, the DEA said Thursday morning that “marijuana remains a Schedule 1 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.”

The decision came as a blow to cannabis industry hopes that the DEA would announce more sweeping changes governing the legal status of marijuana, which in turn could have significantly boosted the climate for businesses.

Industry advocates have argued that cannabis doesn’t belong in the same category as other Schedule 1 drugs such as heroin, LSD and ecstasy, which are all widely agreed to be much more dangerous than marijuana. Nevertheless, supporters of rescheduling cannabis took heart from the DEA’s announcement that it will take steps to make the plant more available to researchers.

“I welcome the decision to lessen barriers to medical marijuana research. More than half the states – and counting – have legalized some form of medical marijuana. It’s outrageous that federal policy has blocked science for so long,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat and longtime MJ advocate, said in a statement.

“However, this decision doesn’t go far enough and is further evidence that the DEA doesn’t get it,” Blumenauer added. “Keeping marijuana at Schedule 1 continues an outdated, failed approach – leaving patients and marijuana businesses trapped between state and federal laws.”

In its news release, the DEA said it would expand the number of authorized producers of research-grade cannabis beyond the University of Mississippi, which for years has been the only institution authorized to grow the plant.

“This change should provide researchers with a more varied and robust supply of marijuana,” the agency said. It added that this “will allow additional entities to apply to become registered with DEA so that they may grow and distribute marijuana for FDA-authorized research purposes.”

In April, news broke that the DEA was weighing whether to reschedule marijuana and reportedly planned to make a decision by the end of June. The month came and went without an announcement, and the agency largely has been mum since then on the subject of marijuana.

The agency has weighed rescheduling marijuana several times in the past but decided against doing so.

In its latest decision, the DEA noted that a U.S. Health and Human Services evaluation found that cannabis “has no currently accepted medical use” because:

  •  “The drug’s chemistry is not known and reproducible”
  •  “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”

“Based on the HHS evaluation and all other relevant data, the DEA has concluded that there is no substantial evidence that marijuana should be removed from Schedule 1,” DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg wrote in separate letters to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee and New Mexico nurse practitioner Bryan Krumm.