Pubdate: Sat, 13 Aug 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company


Supporters of a saner marijuana policy scored a small victory this 
week when the Obama administration said it would authorize more 
institutions to grow marijuana for medical research. But the 
government passed up an opportunity to make a more significant change.

The Drug Enforcement Administration on Thursday turned down two 
petitions - one from the governors of Rhode Island and Washington and 
the other from a resident of New Mexico - requesting that marijuana 
be removed from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. Drugs on 
that list, which include heroin and LSD, are deemed to have no 
medical use; possession is illegal under federal law, and researchers 
have to jump through many hoops to obtain permission to study them 
and obtain samples to study. Having marijuana on that list is deeply 
misguided since many scientists and President Obama have said that it 
is no more dangerous than alcohol.

Over the years, Congress and attorneys general have deferred to the 
expertise of the D.E.A., which is the part of the Justice Department 
that enforces the nation's drug laws. So the D.E.A. has amassed 
extensive control over drug policy making. It determines who gets to 
grow marijuana for research and which scholars are allowed to study 
it, for example. It has strongly resisted efforts by scientists, 
state officials and federal lawmakers to reclassify marijuana by 
rejecting or refusing to acknowledge evidence that marijuana is not 
nearly as harmful as federal law treats it.

Since 1968, the University of Mississippi has been the only 
institution allowed to grow the plant for research. This has severely 
limited availability. The D.E.A. now says that because researchers 
are increasingly interested in studying marijuana, it will permit 
more universities to grow the cannabis plant and supply it to 
researchers who have been approved to conduct studies on it. This 
should make it easier for researchers to obtain varieties of 
marijuana with varying concentrations of different compounds.

Apart from the scarcity of research-grade marijuana, the drug's 
Schedule 1 status means that scientists have to obtain multiple 
approvals from different federal agencies like the D.E.A. and the 
Food and Drug Administration to conduct research. By comparison, the 
government makes it much easier to study opioids and other dangerous 
drugs that are listed on Schedules 2 to 5.

The D.E.A. and the F.D.A. insist that there is not enough scientific 
evidence to justify removing marijuana from Schedule 1. This is a 
disingenuous argument; the government itself has made it impossible 
to do the kinds of trials and studies that could produce the evidence 
that would justify changing the drug's classification.

As the D.E.A. tiptoes toward reconsidering marijuana policies, voters 
all over the country are expanding access to the drug through 
initiatives. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State and the 
District of Columbia have legalized recreational use, and 25 states 
and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have legalized medical 
marijuana. Residents of at least five states - Arizona, California, 
Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada - will vote on ballot measures to 
legalize recreational marijuana in November, and residents of 
Arkansas and Florida will vote on measures to legalize medical marijuana.

The Obama administration has done the right thing by allowing state 
legalization efforts to proceed. But the next president could easily 
undo that policy. Hillary Clinton has said she supports letting 
states legalize the drug and removing it from Schedule 1. Donald 
Trump has said he is personally opposed to legalization of 
recreational use, but he supports medical marijuana and the right of 
states to set their own policies.

Removing marijuana from Schedule 1 would be ideal. Reducing research 
restrictions and lessening penalties for users would be a step in the 
right direction.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom