Pubdate: Fri, 12 Aug 2016
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Rob Hotakainen


WASHINGTON - Delivering a major blow to backers of pot legalization, 
the Obama administration said Thursday that it would keep marijuana 
classified as one of the nation's most dangerous drugs, similar to 
heroin and LSD.

The long-awaited decision by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration 
keeps intact a 1970 law that lists marijuana as Schedule 1 drug, one 
defined as having no medical value. That runs counter to decisions 
made by California and 25 other states that have already approved use 
of the drug as medicine.

In November, California voters will decide whether to legalize 
marijuana for recreational use.

In San Diego County, there are nine legal medical marijuana 
dispensaries, eight in the city of San Diego and one in an unincorporated area.

The region has fewer dispensaries than many expected by now not 
because of federal law but instead because of strict local 
regulations governing location, permitting and operation of the businesses.

The DEA's ruling shocked legalization supporters, many of whom had 
considered President Barack Obama an ally after the Justice 
Department decided in 2013 to allow Washington state and Colorado to 
sell recreational marijuana.

"While I haven't read it, the outcome puts the DEA totally out of 
touch with the Justice Department, current research, the medical 
profession, patients and the public," said Christine Gregoire, the 
former Democratic governor of Washington state.

In 2011, Gregoire and former Rhode Island Republican Gov. Lincoln 
Chafee filed a petition asking the DEA to reclassify marijuana, a 
move that would have allowed pharmacies to fill pot prescriptions. 
She said it was "very disappointing" that the DEA had failed to 
recognize that the drug had any therapeutic value.

Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy 
Project, called the DEA's decision "mind-boggling."

"It is intellectually dishonest and completely indefensible," he 
said. "Not everyone agrees marijuana should be legal, but few will 
deny that it is less harmful than alcohol and many prescription drugs."

The DEA announced its decision in Thursday's Federal Register, 
publishing a letter sent to Democratic Govs. Jay Inslee of Washington 
and Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island.

In the letter, DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said the 
agency had concluded that marijuana still has a high potential for 
abuse, has no accepted medical use, and is not safe even under 
medical supervision.

"The petition is, therefore, hereby denied," Rosenberg told the governors.

Rosenberg elaborated in an interview with National Public Radio, 
saying he gave "enormous weight" to advice from the Food and Drug 

"This decision isn't based on danger," said Rosenberg, who was 
appointed by Obama in 2015. "This decision is based on whether 
marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective 
medicine. And it's not."

The decision upholds the classification of marijuana as one of the 
most dangerous drugs as defined by Congress and President Richard M. 
Nixon in the Controlled Substances Act 46 years ago.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said the 
DEA had chosen to reaffirm a "flat-earth position," while the 
National Cannabis Industry Association said the ruling "flies in the 
face of objective science and overwhelming public opinion."

Dr. Igor Grant, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis 
Research at UC San Diego, was critical of the decision.

"I think for the DEA to say that marijuana doesn't have any medicinal 
value just doesn't fit with the facts," said Grant, who has been 
studying the drug for years. "We know that marijuana can help control 
neuropathic pain - in the short term. We don't know whether it is 
effective longer term - beyond a few weeks, months, a year maybe."

Marijuana opponents hailed the decision and predicted it would stop 
the momentum of the nation's legalization movement.

"To be honest, it vindicates us," said Kevin Sabet, president of the 
anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, one of the few 
who had predicted the DEA would not reschedule the drug.

Sabet said the ruling would "raise eyebrows in the legalization 
community" among those who had pressured the DEA to reschedule 
marijuana but added: "This now sets them way back."

The ruling will up the pressure on Democratic presidential nominee 
Hillary Clinton to follow through on her promise to reschedule 
marijuana if she wins the election in November.

And in the meantime, Obama is sure to face continued pressure to 
override the DEA's decision before his term expires. His 
administration drew praise from many pot backers three years ago when 
the Justice Department said states could proceed with sales of 
marijuana as long as they do a good job of policing themselves.

Legalization backers wanted Obama to push for full-scale 
legalization, but with federal laws still on the books banning the 
drug, states will continue to operate in the same legal gray area.

"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 has medical value," said Tom Angell, chairman 
of Marijuana Majority, another pro-legalization group. He said states 
should be allowed to set their own policies, "unencumbered by an 
outdated 'Reefer Madness' mentality that some in law enforcement 
still choose to cling to."

The DEA did make one concession, saying it would remove the 
government's monopoly that now allows one institution - the 
University of Mississippi - to grow marijuana for research purposes.

"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," Rosenberg said. "If 
our understanding of the science changes, that could very well drive 
a new decision."

Grant, of UC San Diego, is preparing to launch a major study that 
will try to determine the effects of cannabis on driving and whether 
scientists can develop better roadside detection methods for the 
drug. The project will use marijuana provided by the government, he said.

In addition, Grant said the university has no immediate intentions of 
applying for the right to grow its own marijuana for scientific use.

Hotakainen writes for the McClatchy News Service. Staff writer Gary 
Robbins contributed to this report.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom