Feds Push Back Hard on Medical Marijuana

By Dirk Hanson 07/11/11

 DEA Insists that Marijuana Belongs in Same Class as Heroin—has no medical benefits

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DEA’s Leonhart ups the ante.
Photo via lawmancolo

In case there was any doubt on this point, the government has finally announced it’s opposition (again) to reclassifying cannabis and moving it into a less severe category of scheduled drug, nine years after marijuana activists requested a decision. The Los Angeles Times reported that DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart rejected the request, saying marijuana should remain in the same category as heroin because of its high abuse potential—and arguing, despite substantial research to the contrary that marijuana "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." Ouch. The letter, and 37 pages of supporting documents, were published Friday in the Federal Register. "At this time," Leonhart said, "the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy." We will assume she said this with a straight face, as the main reason we do not have a wealth of well-controlled clinical trials for scientifically evaluating marijuana safety is because the U.S. government effectively shut down that line of research decades ago, and only recently reopened it to outside researchers in some cases. Paul Armentano, NORML’s deputy director, said Administrator Leonhart had “reaffirmed in the Federal Register the administration’s ‘flat Earth’ position regarding the medical properties of cannabis.”

Americans lately have consistently supported medical marijuana by slim margins in national polls. Back when the petition was filed, eight states had approved medical marijuana. Now 16 states and the District of Columbia have done so. In 2009, the American Medical Association urged the government to review its classification of marijuana "with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods."

Attorneys who had filed for the reclassification put the best face on matters. “We have foiled the government's strategy of delay, and we can now go head-to-head on the merits," said Joe Elford, the chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]