Pubdate: Mon, 11 Jul 2016
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Copyright: 2016 Journal Sentinel Inc.


DEA to Decide If Pot Is Still a Schedule 1 Drug or Has Medical Potential

Washington - When President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled 
Substances Act in 1970, the federal government put marijuana in the 
category of the nation's most dangerous drugs, along with LSD, heroin 
and mescaline.

In legal parlance, pot is a Schedule 1 drug, with a high potential 
for abuse and no medical purpose.

Forty-six years later, the law might soon change, as the Obama 
administration prepares to make what could be its biggest decision 
yet on marijuana.

Suspense is mounting after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration 
missed its self-imposed June 30 deadline to decide whether to 
reschedule the drug and recognize its potential therapeutic value. 
Twenty-six states already have legalized its medical use.

For Christine Gregoire, the former Democratic governor of Washington 
state, a decision has been a long time coming.

In 2011, she and Republican Lincoln Chafee, who was then the governor 
of Rhode Island, filed a 106-page petition with the DEA, arguing that 
the categorization of marijuana was "fundamentally wrong should changed."

In an interview, Gregoire said she "naively had such high 
expectations" that the DEA would act long before now, but she 
predicted that the agency will approve the rescheduling.

"To be honest with you, I'd be shocked if they didn't," Gregoire 
said. "Frankly, in five years the entire world has changed in 
Washington state. Today we have recreational marijuana, and the 
Justice Department's nowhere to be found." and be

Voters in Washington state and Colorado became the first in the 
nation to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, a year after the 
governors filed their petition.

With the Obama administration adopting a policy to "just look the 
other way" in states with recreational marijuana, Gregoire said it 
would be hard for the DEA to justify keeping marijuana on the Schedule 1 list.

Opinions differ on what exactly might happen when the DEA responds to 
the petition, but a move to reschedule marijuana would be a major 
milestone in the decades-long push to legalize pot.

Among other things, it could pave the way for pharmacies to fill 
marijuana prescriptions and allow universities and others to conduct 
more medical research.

Many pot entrepreneurs hope that Congress would respond by helping 
marijuana businesses, allowing them to deduct their expenses from 
their federal taxes and giving them access to banks so they can phase 
out their all-cash operations.

Some predict that rescheduling could even make it easier for 
marijuana users to challenge policies that allow employers to fire 
them for positive drug tests.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for 
the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the DEA's decision would be 
"remarkably consequential," adding: "It will really cast the 
direction one way or the other."

To be sure, there are plenty of skeptics who doubt that the DEA will 
change anything at all.

"I'll believe it when I see it," said Gregory Carter, medical 
director of St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Wash., 
who helped write the petition.

The DEA has given no indication of how it might rule, and President 
Barack Obama has said any decision to reschedule marijuana should be 
left to Congress.

In the long run, many say, the best solution is not to reschedule 
marijuana but to "deschedule" the drug, putting it in the same 
category as tobacco and alcohol.

As the DEA prepares to act, the man in the hot seat is DEA acting 
Administrator Chuck Rosenberg, who infuriated pot advocates last year 
by dismissing the idea that smoking marijuana has any medical value.

"We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should 
legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it 
medicine. That is a joke," he told reporters at a briefing.

But as more states vote to legalize medical or recreational 
marijuana, the issue is winning more support on Capitol Hill. 
Senators will debate the potential medical benefits and risks of 
marijuana Wednesday, when the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and 
Terrorism takes up the issue.

When Rosenberg appeared before the full Senate Judiciary Committee 
last month, North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis urged him to 
back his bill that would make it easier to research the medical 
effectiveness and safety of marijuana.

Tillis said he was particularly interested in more study of 
cannabidiol, or CBD, a form of cannabis oil that has been shown to 
reduce seizures.

"I've said over and over if it turns out that we find something in 
that plant that helps kids with epilepsy, I promise you, I will be at 
the front of the parade, leading the band," Rosenberg replied.

- -- McClatchy Washington Bureau
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom