Pubdate: Sat, 30 Apr 2016
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2016 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: John Hudak
Note: John Hudak is senior fellow in governance studies at the 
Brookings Institution and the author of the forthcoming book 
"Marijuana: A Short History." The preceding commentary was first 
published by The Washington Post and republished here with permission.


The Controlled Substances Act is not outdated.

It is a law structured in a way meant to protect science, medicine, 
patients and the public. It is not absolutist. It has an 
administrative structure built into it to control for mistakes, new 
scientific discoveries and even evolving public or medical understanding.

Today's federal drug laws appear to have done a disservice to 
marijuana, locking it into an inappropriate schedule where it is 
banned outright.

But in reality, negative drug policy around marijuana is not the 
fault of the CSA. Instead, a variety of other factors -- mainly 
attributed to biased lawmakers -- have hindered the law from working 
properly when it comes to the drug.

The initial placement of marijuana in Schedule I, the government's 
most restrictive category of drugs, can easily be considered a 
mistake -- though perhaps "mistake" is too meek a term, particularly 
in the face of alcohol and tobacco being left off the schedules.

In fact, marijuana's strict scheduling emerges from the cultural and 
racial antipathy felt by Richard Nixon, the activist president who 
signed the Controlled Substances Act into law. Nixon's aides 
suggested the war on marijuana was racially motivated, and Oval 
Office tapes highlight his contempt for the counterculture movement 
as well as racial minorities.

The tapes also make it clear that Nixon wanted to link marijuana use 
and its negative effects to two groups he held in contempt: 
African-Americans and hippies.

Nixon even appointed a commission to look into the ills of marijuana: 
the Shafer Commission. When the group issued its report entitled 
"Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding," which explained that 
marijuana was not as dangerous or addictive as it had widely been 
perceived, Nixon called his handpicked chairman, former Republican 
Pennsylvania governor Ray Shafer, into the Oval Office to be chastised.

So, while marijuana's placement in Schedule I was not a result of 
deep scientific expertise, that does not mean that the CSA is to 
blame for the continuing policy problems.

The CSA has avenues to correct error or compensate for new 
information or data. Rescheduling is one such remedy.

Under administrative rescheduling, the attorney general asks the Drug 
Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration to 
examine whether a substance is properly scheduled. The attorney 
general takes those recommendations and ultimately makes a 
determination. If a substance is determined to be improperly 
scheduled, a rulemaking process commences that ultimately reschedules 
the substance.

That the rescheduling process exists means that the architects of the 
CSA understood the need for legal flexibility and thought that 
avenues for revision should be built into the law. However, due to 
cultural biases and stigma that have been cemented into society, 
science and bureaucracy, those avenues have largely failed marijuana. 
The nearly century-long institutional effort by the U.S. government 
to paint marijuana as anathema to society, in all forms and under all 
circumstances, has been devastatingly successful.

How has that effort played out? Beyond promoting propaganda that 
stoked public, congressional and media fears of marijuana, the 
government also decided that it was of greater interest to fund 
research that focused on marijuana's addictive properties rather than 
its possible medical efficacy.

The government stifled the ability of the scientific community to 
build knowledge and expertise in as robust a way as research has 
explored the efficacy of other controlled substances, even as 
research came to discover the endocannabinoid system and developed an 
understanding of how cannabinoids impacted certain human systems and 
cellular processes.

The federal government set up a DEA-mandated monopoly through the 
National Institutes on Drug Abuse for the growth of research grade 
marijuana -- not for all Schedule I drugs, just marijuana.

For decades, the supply from that monopoly was often insufficient to 
meet clinical researchers' needs.

Until recently, all marijuana research proposals needed to go through 
an additional, unique review by the Public Health Service that added 
a bureaucratic layer, hindering research.

So what was the result?

Decades of federal policies -- entirely separate from the CSA -- 
limited the ability of the scientific community to produce the type 
of research that could demonstrate that medical value.

In order for marijuana to be rescheduled to Schedule II, it requires 
demonstration of an "accepted medical use." Yet government policy has 
effectively created a "cannabis Catch-22 for research, ensuring that 
regardless of reality, marijuana will remain Schedule I.

The CSA hasn't failed marijuana.

Instead, the federal government has prevented the CSA from working 
properly when it comes to marijuana. If you want marijuana 
rescheduled, don't blame the law; blame the hundreds of lawmakers who 
consistently vote down reasonable marijuana reforms.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom