Pubdate: Fri, 12 Aug 2016
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Peter Fimrite


DEA Turns Down Pleas to Redefine Drug's Dangers

The federal government's fresh assertion that marijuana has no 
demonstrated medicinal value, which came even as it granted 
scientists greater ability to study whether it might, is the latest 
zigzag in a national psychodrama over pot that remains unsettled even 
as states strike out on their own and legalize recreational use of the drug.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced Thursday that it 
had rejected pleas to take marijuana off its Schedule I drug list - 
which includes heroin and ecstasy - meaning the herb is still 
classified, as it has been for 46 years, as an addictive drug with no 
accepted medical value and a high potential for abuse.

The DEA did, however, end a virtual monopoly on medical research by 
the National Institute on Drug Abuse, making more marijuana available 
to researchers in a move designed to foster more studies by 
universities, research institutions and other scientific 
organizations - something marijuana advocates have long supported.

The University of Mississippi has for years been the only place 
allowed by the federal government to grow the plant for medical 
studies, a policy that severely limited the supply.

The government said it considers current research inadequate. Even 
so, 25 states, including California, have approved marijuana as a 
medicine to treat conditions such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and 
rheumatoid arthritis. While pot advocates oppose criminalization of 
marijuana, many see the value of more rigorous study.

The move opening up research is "a really positive outcome," said 
Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the Emerald Growers 
Association, an advocacy group of more than 600 medical marijuana 
farmers, business owners and patients in California.

Illustrating the complexities of pot politics, the DEA's decision not 
to remove cannabis from Schedule I sparked a muted reaction from some 

Allen is among those who wants marijuana declassified altogether, and 
he fears that an incremental reduction in status could bring new 
regulations and red tape in a state that has a mature medicinal 
industry and a legalization ballot measure going to voters in November.

"It is disappointing that cannabis remains on the controlled 
substance list. Best science certainly does not support this 
classification," Allen said. "We made some controlled progress, but 
we didn't throw ourselves into this new category and disrupt all this 
work at the state level."

The DEA could have placed marijuana in the less-restrictive Schedule 
II, which includes drugs like cocaine, Vicodin and OxyContin that are 
illegal to use recreationally but are seen to have legitimate medical 

Thursday's decision was a response to congressional petitions filed 
in 2009 and 2011, and comes after two decades of federal opposition 
to legalization in the United States, where a $7 billion industry has 
emerged in several states despite the federal ban.

Chuck Rosenberg, acting administrator of the DEA, said in a letter 
released Thursday that the decision to keep marijuana a Schedule I 
drug was based on scientific standards consistent with the FDA's 
drug-approval process.

"Research is the bedrock of science, and we will - as we have for 
many years - support and promote legitimate research regarding 
marijuana and its constituent parts," Rosenberg wrote. "It does not 
have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United 
States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical 
supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse."

Opponents of pot legalization praised the decision, including Kevin 
Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

"Big Marijuana was counting on President Obama to reschedule or even 
deschedule marijuana," he said, "in order to circumvent the FDA 
process to turn a quick profit on unregulated products."

Despite Thursday's decision, President Obama has gone on record 
saying he is in favor of relaxing federal regulations on marijuana, 
which he considers no more dangerous than alcohol. Rep. Earl 
Blumenauer, DOregon, said the DEA decision does not go far enough.

"It's outrageous that federal policy has blocked science for so 
long," he said. "Keeping marijuana at Schedule I continues an 
outdated, failed approach - leaving patients and marijuana businesses 
trapped between state and federal laws."

The hope among many pot advocates, customers and merchants is that 
the government will eventually bridge a number of divides between 
state and federal governments over medicinal and recreational pot use.

"This decision does not address other key concerns like the need for 
banking services and tax equity for small businesses, operating 
legally in half the states," Blumenauer said. "It's not right or fair."

On the other hand, some legalization advocates said, reclassifying 
marijuana might have come with major regulatory hurdles - allowing 
doctors to prescribe it and opening the door for more research and 
commerce, but only after marijuana obtained FDA approval. That 
process is lengthy and expensive, they said.

Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia 
have legalized adult use of pot. Those states have operated their 
industries independently of federal agencies, creating rules that aim 
to, among other things, protect the environment and shield children 
from THC-infused food.

Proposition 64 would legalize recreational pot use in California. 
Nevertheless, many in the industry want broader scientific study of a 
drug that is being used to treat dozens of diseases without rigorous 
science behind its effectiveness.

More science would not only mean better information on weed's medical 
benefits, but could help develop tools for detecting drug abuse and 
intoxication while driving, said Gina Roccanova, a partner at the 
Oakland-based Meyers Nave law firm, which specializes in employment 
law as it relates to marijuana.

"One of the reasons it is so hard to test for impairment," she said, 
"is that so little research has been done in the field."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom