Pubdate: Tue, 17 Jan 2017
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2017 The New York Times Company


Even as more and more states allow their residents to use marijuana, the
federal government is continuing to obstruct scientists from studying
whether the drug is good or bad for people's health.

A report published last week by the National Academies of Sciences,
Engineering and Medicine points out that scientists who want to study
cannabis have to seek approvals from federal, state and local agencies and
depend on just one lab, at the University of Mississippi, for samples. As
a result, far too little is known about the health effects of a substance
that 28 states have decided can be used as medicine and eight states and
the District of Columbia have approved for recreational use.

The situation is so absurd, the report says, that chemists and brain
researchers are not allowed to study cannabis concentrates and edibles.
Yet those forms of the drug are widely used. For example, in Colorado,
where voters decided to create a regulated market for marijuana in 2012,
sales of concentrates reached $60.5 million in just the first three months
of last year.

Many of the research restrictions stem from the federal government's
decision to classify marijuana under Schedule I of the Controlled
Substances Act, which limits access to funding, among other burdens. The
report, which was written by a committee of health experts, does not go as
far as calling for reclassification, something that Congress or the
executive branch has the power to do.

But the report's conclusions show why marijuana does not belong with LSD
and heroin on Schedule I, defined as substances with a high potential for
abuse and no accepted medical use. The committee's review of existing
studies found "conclusive or substantial evidence" that marijuana or
compounds in the plant can effectively treat chronic pain, nausea from
chemotherapy and some symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Though there is not
enough evidence to show that epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder
can be successfully treated, the report said continuing clinical trials
may yet provide proof.

The report did point out that there could be harmful effects from
marijuana use, like increased risk of car accidents. And marijuana smoking
by pregnant women was linked to low birth weight. But cannabis does not
increase the risk of lung or neck cancers and there is limited evidence
that it leads people to start using other substances - the "gateway drug"

Regrettably, Congress and the Obama administration have refused to remove
marijuana from Schedule I. And President-elect Donald Trump does not
support recreational use of the drug, though he has endorsed medical use.
His nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, has a long record
of opposing marijuana legalization by states and, in April, said, "good
people don't smoke marijuana." During his confirmation hearings last week,
he seemed to take a more sensible position by praising guidelines issued
by the Justice Department in 2013 that let states experiment with
legalization if they properly regulated production and distribution.

Even if Mr. Trump and Congress are unwilling to reclassify marijuana, they
could remove the regulatory barriers to research and let scientists get to
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