Pubdate: Thu, 11 Aug 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Author: Lenny Bernstein


The government on Thursday will refuse again to allow the use of 
marijuana for medical purposes, reaffirming its conclusion that the 
drug's therapeutic value has not been proved scientifically, 
according to government officials, and defying a growing clamor to 
legalize it for the treatment of a variety of conditions.

In an announcement scheduled to be in the Federal Register, the Drug 
Enforcement Administration will turn down requests to remove 
marijuana from "Schedule I," which classifies it as a drug with "no 
currently accepted medical use" in the United States and bars doctors 
from prescribing it.

The decision will keep the federal government at odds with 25 states 
and the District of Columbia, which have passed laws allowing medical 
use of marijuana to some degree. Some members of Congress have called 
for its reclassification, and on Wednesday the National Conference of 
State Legislatures adopted a resolution asking the federal government 
to remove marijuana from Schedule I.

The DEA will announce one policy change that could increase the 
amount of research conducted on marijuana, the officials said. The 
agency will expand the number of places allowed to grow marijuana for 
studies of its value in the relief of chronic pain and as a treatment 
for epilepsy and other purposes. Currently, only the University of 
Mississippi, which holds an exclusive contract with the National 
Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is federally licensed to grow 
marijuana for research.

The announcements will be the latest development in the 46-year legal 
and policy battle over the status of marijuana. They are sure to 
disappoint advocates of looser restrictions on the drug, who had 
hoped that the government would carve out a special place for 
marijuana in the controlled-substances regulations or move it to a 
less tightly regulated category, Schedule II.

In the words of a 2015 Brookings Institution report, a move to 
Schedule II "would signal to the medical community that [the Food and 
Drug Administration] and [the National Institutes of Health] are 
ready to take medical marijuana research seriously, and help overcome 
a government-sponsored chilling effect on research that manifests in 
direct and indirect ways."

But according to government officials, marijuana again failed an 
analysis conducted by the FDA and NIDA. The FDA concluded that 
medical and scientific data do not yet prove that marijuana is safe 
and effective as a medicine. Legally, that prohibits the DEA from 
reclassifying the drug.

"We're pleased to see that the Obama Administration . . . understands 
the science the way we and almost every single medical association in 
the country understand it," said Kevin Sabet, president of Smart 
Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes loosening restrictions on the drug.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) praised the decision to allow more 
facilities to cultivate marijuana for research but said the decision 
doesn't go far enough. "This decision . . . is further evidence that 
the DEA doesn't get it. Keeping marijuana at Schedule I continues an 
outdated, failed approach - leaving patients and marijuana businesses 
trapped between state and federal laws," Blumenauer said.

Schedule I drugs - which include LSD and heroin, as well as marijuana 
- - have "no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a 
lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high 
potential for abuse." Schedule II drugs, such as the powerful 
narcotic painkillers that have caused an epidemic of addiction over 
the past decade, have medicinal value but "a high potential for abuse 
which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence." 
Marijuana was placed in Schedule I in 1970 when Congress passed the 
Controlled Substances Act.

Research has shown that some components of marijuana have promise as 
a treatment for epilepsy and chronic pain. Some people use it to 
relieve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, but research 
has not been done to prove its value for that condition.

Academic researchers have complained that registration and 
application requirements to work with Schedule I drugs make studying 
their purported benefits difficult. But the DEA says the number of 
researchers registered to study marijuana and its components doubled 
in the past two years.

The governors of Rhode Island and Washington, and a New Mexico 
resident, Bryan A. Krumm, petitioned the DEA to remove marijuana from 
Schedule I. The agency most recently rejected a similar request in 
2011, touching off a legal battle to force reclassification in which 
the DEA ultimately prevailed.

It is unclear how many more facilities would be allowed to grow 
marijuana for research under the new rules. But the government will 
signal its intent to end the effective monopoly on cultivation 
maintained by NIDA and the University of Mississippi, officials said. 
That would allow a greater supply and a wider variety of extracts for 
research. Growers would apply to the DEA, not to NIDA, for permission 
to cultivate.

The announcement also contains a "statement of principles" that 
reminds growers of the provisions of a 2014 law that governs the use 
of industrial hemp. The plant is a cannabis variant that contains a 
low concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical 
responsible for most of marijuana's impact on the brain.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom