The DEA’s marijuana decision is more important than rescheduling
Today the Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to announce its decision on a five-year-old marijuana rescheduling petition. After a long wait and amid wild speculation about the agency’s intentions, DEA has decided to keep marijuana as a Schedule I substance, but to take the unexpected step of ending the monopoly on the production of research grade marijuana.
This move will certainly disappoint many in the marijuana reform community who hoped that DEA would change marijuana’s status. Under current policy—and now continuing policy—marijuana is categorized along with heroin and LSD as a substance that has no medical value and that has a high potential for abuse. Reformers hoped that the administration would accept the claim that marijuana has medical benefit and can be used safely in treatment. Today, it is opting not to do so.
However, DEA, in a clear sign of the growing political complexity around cannabis policy in the United States, will strike a balance. Rather than wholly maintaining the current policy, the administration nixed a different stumbling block to the study of marijuana and its efficacy as a medical product: the DEA mandated monopoly on the growth of marijuana for research (administered through the National Institutes on Drug Abuse). The DEA-mandated NIDA monopoly was cited as a significant barrier to research by observers like myself, Mark Kleiman and many others, as well as clinical researchers themselves.
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