Pubdate: Wed, 17 Aug 2016
Source: Colorado Springs Independent (CO)
Column: CannaBiz
Copyright: 2016 Colorado Springs Independent
Author: Nat Stein


It's possible the result still could be a happy ending.

When the "first half of 2016" came and went without a marijuana 
rescheduling announcement, it became clear the Drug Enforcement 
Agency didn't feel overly obligated to meet its own self-imposed timeline.

But now the DEA has rejected two petitions - one from the governors 
of Rhode Island and Washington, one from a New Mexico resident - for 
the removal of cannabis from Schedule I under the Controlled 
Substances Act. The federal government will continue to consider 
cannabis as dangerous as heroin, though it will end the monopoly on 
research-grade cannabis production.

Details of the recommendations from the Department of Health and 
Human Services (HHS), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and 
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) can be found in the Federal 
Register, where the DEA posted acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg's 
written response. He addresses the eight factors behind a substance's 
scheduling: pharmacological effects; state of scientific knowledge; 
history; potential for abuse; significance of abuse; risk to public 
health; liability for dependence; and status as a "gateway drug."

In short, the DEA has reasserted marijuana has high potential for 
abuse, no accepted medical use and is classified appropriately. But 
the agency acknowledged the "cannabis catch-22": that marijuana is in 
Schedule I because there's not enough scientific research, but 
there's not enough scientific research because it's in Schedule I. 
This is where reformers were tossed a bone: More growers will now be 
authorized to supply research-grade cannabis to scientists itching to 
produce better evidence.

For decades, the DEA mandated any researcher must source cannabis 
from a NIDA-licensed grow; there's one in the nation, at the 
University of Mississippi. That meant insufficient supply, inadequate 
strain diversity, botched processing, slow delivery and high cost. 
That blocked studies on the plant's medical benefit.

This news isn't clearly good or bad for state-legal patients, 
consumers, businesses, growers, regulators and government officials.

As John Hudak wrote for the Brookings Institute, the "move will 
certainly disappoint many in the marijuana reform community who hoped 
that DEA would change marijuana's status," but rescheduling would've 
been "largely symbolic" - neither the silver bullet nor the death 
sentence for legal cannabis.

According to Hudak's analysis, the decision isn't entirely tone-deaf. 
"DEA is hyper-aware of [...] societal changes," he wrote, noting that 
"between the Cole Memos creating a legal space in which cannabis 
enterprises can operate, the removal of the Public Health Service's 
duplicative review of marijuana research proposals, and the Treasury 
Department's efforts to encourage banking access for the cannabis 
industry or the numerous proposals in Congress seeking reform, the 
times for marijuana are a-changin'."

Ultimately, the announcement amounts to a forward-looking punt.

"If marijuana had been rescheduled, a new administration could have 
been sworn in next January with the idea that the problems facing the 
marijuana industry and community were 'fixed' and that no further 
action need be taken," Hudak continued. "However, if come January a 
new president is sworn in who looks at the drug policy landscape and 
sees both a system in need of repair and a policy with reforms that 
can garner bipartisan, bicameral support in Congress, DEA's 
stubbornness on rescheduling may ultimately become reformers' 
blessing in disguise."

We know the next president should be somewhere on the 
cannabis-friendly end of the spectrum.

Green Party candidate Jill Stein has called for nationwide 
legalization, as has Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, who 
was CEO of a medical marijuana business before the campaign. The 
Marijuana Policy Project endorsed Johnson, praising him for openly 
discussing his personal use of the federally illegal substance and 
becoming the highest-ranking public official to advocate for 
legalization as governor of New Mexico in 1999.

Donald Trump called for legalization of all drugs in the 1990s. But 
last year, when a Washington Post reporter asked him about marijuana, 
Trump replied, "I think that should be a state issue, 
state-by-state," before adding that "medical should happen - right? 
Don't we agree? I think so." He has also called Colorado's full 
legalization "a real problem."

Hillary Clinton has expressed support for rescheduling, leaving legal 
states alone and encouraging more medical research.

So the DEA's decision, though disappointing on its face, may well 
prove temporary after the November election - regardless of who wins.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom