Pubdate: Fri, 12 Aug 2016
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2016 Austin American-Statesman
Note: Letters MUST be 150 words or less
Author: Lenny Bernstein, Washington Post


Federal Government at Odds With 25 States That Allow Therapeutic Use.

The Obama administration has decided marijuana will remain on the 
list of most dangerous drugs, fully rebuffing growing support across 
the country for broad legalization, but said it will allow more 
research into its medical uses.

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 con-ducted by the Food 
and Drug Administration, he said the decision "is tethered to the science."

The agency announced one policy change that could incre a se the 
amount of research conducted on mar-ijuana: 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 epi-lepsy 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.

In the words of a 2015 Brookings Institution report, 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 NIDA. 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.

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 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.

Academic researchers have complained that registration and 
application requirements to work with Schedule I drugs make studying 
their purported benefits difficult. The DEA, however, says the number 
of researchers registered to study marijuana and its components has 
doubled in the past two years.

The governors of Rhode Island and Washington, and a New Mexico 
resident, Bryan A. Krumm, petitioned the DEA to remove marijuana from 
Schedule I. The agency most recently rejected a similar request in 
2011, touching off a legal battle to force reclassification in which 
the DEA ultimately prevailed.

With so many states allowing the use of cannabis components for 
health reasons, Rosenberg acknowledged the conflict with the federal 
government's posture. But he said prescribers need not fear that the 
announcement signals a federal crackdown.

are not changing our enforcement priorities," he said.

It is unclear how many more facilities would be allowed to grow 
marijuana for researchers under the new rules. But the government 
signaled its intent to end the effective monopoly on cultivation 
maintained by NIDA and the University of Mississippi, officials said. 
That would allow a greater supply and a wider variety of products for 
research. Growers would apply to DEA, not NIDA, for permission to cultivate.

The new policy also contains a "statement of principles" that reminds 
growers of the provisions of a 2014 law that governs the use of 
industrial hemp. The plant is a cannabis variant that contains a low 
concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical 
responsible for most of marijuana's impact on the brain.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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