Pubdate: Fri, 12 Aug 2016
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Contact:  2016 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: Andrea Noble


Obama Pledged Science-Based Policy

The Obama administration has looked the other way as more than a 
dozen states enacted medical marijuana laws and five jurisdictions 
legalized the drug for recreational use, but when faced with what was 
likely its final chance during President Obama's tenure to loosen 
federal restrictions on the medicinal use of the drug, the 
administration has chosen to puff, puff, pass.

The Drug Enforcement Administration on Thursday denied requests to 
change the legal classification of marijuana, shooting down 
advocates' latest push to get the drug federally approved for medical purposes.

DEA acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg wrote in the announcement 
that an evaluation by the Department of Health and Human Services 
concluded that the drug "has no currently accepted medical use in 
treatment" and "a high potential for abuse."

"If the scientific understanding about marijuana changes - and it 
could change - the decision could change," Mr. Rosenberg wrote in a 
letter to petitioners. "It certainly would be odd to rely on science 
when it suits us and ignore it otherwise."

Issued less than six months before Mr. Obama's term ends, the DEA 
decision leaves the federal government at odds with roughly half of 
states that have approved marijuana for medical use and disappoints 
advocates who hoped its rescheduling would make it easier to study 
potential benefits of the drug.

Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, said the decision was 
a missed opportunity for an administration that had signaled a 
willingness for reform.

"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," Mr. Angell said.

Mr. Obama gave advocates hope that he might take action to downgrade 
the drug's classification when he said he didn't think marijuana was 
more dangerous than alcohol.

Instead, the Justice Department has refrained from challenging state 
laws that allow for medical or recreational marijuana use as long as 
their state regulatory systems follow certain guidelines.

The hands-off approach has given the marijuana industry room to grow 
and thrive, said Taylor West, deputy director of the National 
Cannabis Industry Association.

Fifteen of 25 states that have approved medical marijuana have done 
so since Mr. Obama took office in 2008. Meanwhile, four states and 
the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use.

"It's not as if we haven't seen tremendous progress in these eight 
years," Ms. West said. "It's a far cry from the early years of the 
administration when medical dispensaries were regularly getting 
raided and patients getting arrested."

But she lamented the hurdles the cannabis industry faces when the 
federal government continues to view marijuana as illegal, 
particularly when it comes to banking regulations that have driven 
many in the business to stick to cash transactions.

"It's not OK for a $7 billion industry to continue to have to operate 
in limbo," Ms. West said.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is a Schedule I drug - 
as are heroin, LSD and Ecstasy. The DEA concluded it could not 
downgrade marijuana from its Schedule I classification, considered 
the most dangerous class of drugs, for medical use because the HHS 
evaluation found "the drug's chemistry is not known and reproducible; 
there are no adequate safety studies; there are no adequate and 
well-controlled studies proving efficacy; the drug is not accepted by 
qualified experts; and the scientific evidence is not widely available."

A reclassification as a Schedule 2 drug - the only scheduling option 
the DEA said it had in order to comply with international treaties - 
wouldn't have legalized the medical use of marijuana, but advocates 
said the highly symbolic move would have placed it in a less tightly 
regulated class of drugs and could have opened the door to additional 
avenues of research for medical purposes.

The DEA did relax regulations that make it easier for institutions to 
grow marijuana for scientific research. The University of Mississippi 
had been the only facility in the United States authorized to grow 
pot for research.

Though more than half of Americans now believe that marijuana should 
be legal, plenty were pleased by the DEA's decision. Calvina Fay, 
executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation, said 
rescheduling marijuana would have been irresponsible.

"The facts show that marijuana continues to be the most frequently 
used and abused illicit drug in the nation," Ms. Fay said. "To 
reschedule this drug for 'medical purposes' without the legitimate 
research to back it up would be fraudulent and reckless."
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