Pubdate: Sat, 13 Aug 2016
Source: Register Citizen (CT)
Copyright: 2016 The Associated Press
Author: Alicia A. Caldwell, The Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) - 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.

The decision to expand research into marijuana's medical potential 
could pave the way for the drug to be moved to a lesser category. 
Heroin, peyote and marijuana, among others, are considered Schedule I 
drugs because they have no medical application; cocaine and opiates, 
for example, have medical uses and, while still illegal for 
recreational use, are designated Schedule II drugs.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said the agency's decision came 
after a lengthy review and consultation with the Health and Human 
Services Department, which said marijuana "has a high potential for 
abuse" and "no accepted medical use." The decision means that pot 
will remain illegal for any purpose under federal law, despite laws 
in 25 states and District of Columbia that have legalized pot for 
either medicinal or recreational use.

Advocates have long pushed for the federal government to follow suit.

"If the scientific understanding about marijuana changes - and it 
could change - then the decision could change," DEA acting 
administrator Chuck Rosenberg wrote in a letter to the governors of 
Rhode Island and Washington, who sought the review of marijuana's 
classification in 2011. "But we will remain tethered to science, as 
we must, and as the statute demands. It certainly would be odd to 
rely on science when it suits us and ignore it otherwise."

Rosenberg said designating marijuana a Schedule I drug does not 
necessarily mean it is as dangerous as other drugs.

"It is best not to think of drug scheduling as an escalating 'danger' 
scale - rather, specific statutory criteria (based on medical and 
scientific evidence) determine into which schedule a substance is 
placed," Rosenberg wrote.

The Food and Drug Administration 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 FDA last evaluated marijuana for medical use in 2006 and said in 
its latest review that the available research "has progressed," but 
does not meet federal standards of safety or effectiveness.

While the DEA won't reclassify marijuana, the agency did announce 
plans to make it easier for researchers to study pot's possible 
medical benefits by expanding the number of entities that can legally 
grow marijuana for research purposes.

Currently only researchers at the University of Mississippi are 
allowed to grow marijuana, as part of a contract with the National 
Institute on Drug Abuse.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the DEA's decision "is keeping federal 
laws behind the times."

"The DEA's decision flies in the face of choices made freely by 
voters in Oregon and many other states about the legality of 
marijuana," he said. Oregon legalized pot last year.

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, Colorado, 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.

The Obama administration's position on marijuana started to ease in 
earnest in 2013 when the Justice Department notified Colorado and 
Washington, the first two states to legalize pot for recreational use 
and sales, that it would not interfere with state laws so long as the 
drug was kept out of the hands of children, off the black market and 
away from federal property.

Advocates saw that policy statement as the first step to an end of 
the federal prohibition of marijuana. But that hope was quickly 
diminished as administration officials, including the head of the 
White House-run Office of National Drug Control Policy, repeatedly 
said publicly that they still considered marijuana a dangerous drug 
that had no place in the legal market.

Thursday's announcement was another blow to those hoping the federal 
government would change pot laws.

"In reality, marijuana should be descheduled and states should be 
allowed to set their own policies," said Michael Collins, deputy 
director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which 
supports marijuana policy reform. Collins said he considered the 
DEA's decision to be one that puts "politics above science."

Thursday's ruling has no impact on banking rules for legal marijuana 
businesses. In 2014 the Treasury Department gave banks permission to 
do business with legal marijuana operations with conditions, 
including that they try to make sure that customers complied with 
state regulations.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom