Pubdate: Fri, 12 Aug 2016
Source: Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette (Fayetteville, AR)
Copyright: 2016 Northwest Arkansas Newspapers LLC.
Author: Lenny Bernstein, the Washington Post


WASHINGTON - The government refused again Thursday to allow the use 
of marijuana for medical purposes, reaffirming its conclusion that 
the drug's therapeutic value has not been proved scientifically and 
defying growing support to legalize it for the treatment of a variety 
of conditions.

In an announcement in the Federal Register and a letter to 
petitioners, the Drug Enforcement Administration turned 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 
precludes doctors from prescribing it.

The decision keeps 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. 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.

"Right now, the science doesn't support it," Chuck Rosenberg, acting 
administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said in an 
interview Thursday. Citing a lengthy analysis conducted by the Food 
and Drug Administration, he said the decision "is tethered to the science."

The FDA said agency officials reviewed more than 500 studies on the 
use of medical marijuana, identifying only 11 that met the agency 
standards for "legitimate testing." For various reasons, none of the 
trials demonstrated "an accepted medical use," the agency concluded.

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

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

A 2015 Brookings Institution report explained 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 as it has in previous reviews, marijuana again failed an analysis 
conducted by the FDA and National Institute on Drug Abuse. 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 marijuana.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said he was disappointed with 
the DEA's ruling but his state would continue "to maintain a 
well-regulated, adult-use marijuana system and continue to allow 
patients to have access for necessary medicinal purposes." Jaclyn 
Stafford, an assistant manager at The Station dispensary in Boulder, 
Colo., called the DEA's decision "an inaccurate judgment of the 
plant." She said rescheduling marijuana would allow for more 
regulation to an already growing market and allow more people to take 
advantage of what she described as the "holistic benefits" of pot.

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, although 
research has not been conducted to prove its value for that condition.

Rosenberg of the DEA said that while individual researchers may have 
shown that marijuana or its extracts are helpful for certain 
conditions, the FDA has the most comprehensive view of the state of 
scientific research on the drug. "The FDA knows this better than 
anyone on the planet," he said though he acknowledged that "a lot of 
people will disagree with that."

He also noted that many people misconstrue the controlled-substance 
scheduling regime as a ranking of drugs' relative dangers. Clearly, 
he said, marijuana is not as dangerous as heroin, LSD and perhaps 
some of the opioids in Schedule 2. "It's not the Richter scale," he 
said. But that doesn't mean cannabis and its extracts are safe for 
medical use and not prone to abuse, he added.

Information for this article was contributed by Chris Ingraham of The 
Washington Post and by Alicia A. Caldwell, Matthew Perrone, Brennan 
Linsley and Gene Johnson of The Associated Press.
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