Pubdate: Fri, 12 Aug 2016
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Orange County Register
Author: Brooke Edwards Staggs


California appears poised to join the growing number of states that 
have legalized marijuana, even as the federal government is 
reaffirming its 46-year-old stance that pot is a top-tier illicit 
narcotic on par with heroin and LSD.

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Thursday that marijuana 
will remain classified as a Schedule I controlled substance - a 
designation reserved for highly addictive drugs with no proven medical use.

Thousands of published studies and extensive anecdotal evidence have 
indicated marijuana can help with conditions such as epilepsy and 
chronic pain. But DEA acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said a 
thorough review of the research, with input from the U.S. Food and 
Drug Administration, determined cannabis treatments haven't yet been 
proven effective by controlled clinical trials and widespread 
acceptance from the medical community.

"If the scientific understanding about marijuana changes - and it 
could change - then the decision could change," Rosenberg said. "But 
we will remain tethered to science."

Cannabis advocates said they don't expect the DEA's ruling to 
adversely affect various marijuana legalization votes on the ballot 
in California and seven other states this November. But the federal 
action underscored the continuing functional and financial limbo in 
which multimillion-dollar - or even multibillion-dollar - legal 
cannabis industries find themselves in two dozen states.

Cannabis growers, distributors and retailers can't access banking 
services, forcing them to operate largely in cash. They can't write 
off typical business expenses come tax time. Derek Peterson, CEO of 
Irvine-based Terra Tech, even got denied life insurance because of 
his involvement in the cannabis industry.

"Some sort of deal needs to be brokered to harmonize state and 
federal law so we're not constantly battling each other," said Aaron 
Herzberg, who runs the Costa Mesa-based marijuana real estate firm 
CalCann Holdings.

Until then, he said, the federal government's view of pot will 
continue to diverge from that of the American public.

"The majority of citizens live in states where marijuana is available 
to people for medical purposes," Herzberg said. "It seems like the 
DEA and federal government is just woefully behind the times and is 
not getting the message."

The DEA did make one concession Thursday, saying it would remove the 
government's monopoly on growing high-quality marijuana for research 
purposes. The policy has meant that since 1968, only the University 
of Mississippi could supply marijuana for FDA-approved studies.

The DEA insists it's never turned down a request from qualified 
researchers to access that supply. But the agency acknowledged 
there's mounting demand from researchers, so it's going to allow more 
growers to apply to become federally sanctioned suppliers.

Dr. Igor Grant, a psychiatrist who oversees the Center for Medical 
Cannabis Research at UC San Diego, said he was reviewing the DEA 
ruling and couldn't comment on whether his center would apply to grow 
cannabis. But he said he was encouraged by efforts to expand access 
for researchers.

"There is significant evidence that cannabis possesses therapeutic 
value, and it is worthy of continued, even accelerated, investigation 
and development," Grant said. "Actions that reduce obstacles to 
conducting serious, rigorous science regarding the use of cannabis to 
treat diseases are a good thing."

Terra Tech's Peterson sees Thursday's announcement on researching 
cannabis as long overdue. However, the federal government is being 
"hypocritical," he said, by simultaneously asserting marijuana has 
enough potential medical benefits to justify changing research 
policies but also should remain a Schedule I drug.

Congress placed cannabis in that category in 1970. The drug's 
classification has been reviewed periodically. The latest 
reexamination was prompted by a petition filed with the DEA five 
years ago by then-Washington state Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire 
and then-Rhode Island Republican Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

Gregoire said Thursday's action was "very disappointing" and "puts 
the DEA totally out of touch with the Justice Department, current 
research, the medical profession, patients and the public."

Roughly 80 percent of Americans believe medical marijuana should be 
legal, according to recent polls. And the plant can be used to treat 
ailments in 25 states.

Recreational use is allowed in four states plus Washington, D.C. If 
California passes Proposition 64 this November, 1 in 6 Americans 
would live in a state where adults would be allowed to freely use cannabis.

Marijuana opponents predict the DEA's latest decision will slow that momentum.

"To be honest, it vindicates us," said Kevin Sabet, president of 
Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which has donated $64,150 to fight Prop. 64.

Many advocates disagree, saying the federal government's action may 
well motivate states to press ahead with their own expanded cannabis programs.

"The federal government has, to some extent, become highly irrelevant 
in the conversation about legalizing marijuana," Herzberg said. "This 
doesn't slow down anything as far as legalization on a state level in 
California or anywhere. But it's just disappointing."

The ruling will intensify pressure on Democratic presidential 
candidate Hillary Clinton to follow through on her promise to 
recategorize marijuana if she reaches the White House.

President Barack Obama also could face added pressure to override the 
DEA's decision before his term expires at the end of the year.

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 adequately regulated the industry. But 
U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, who recently acknowledged 
that he uses a medical marijuana cream to ease his arthritis, said 
the president hasn't gone far enough.

"The Obama administration has had the chance to correct a foolish and 
counterproductive policy," he said. "Now it's up to the Congress and 
the next administration."

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom