DEA: Marijuana To Remain Schedule I Drug

By McCarton Ackerman 08/11/16

While pot may not be descheduled anytime soon, the DEA did announce its intentions to increase access to marijuana for researchers. 

DEA: Marijuana To Remain Schedule I Drug

Marijuana will remain in the same drug category as heroin and LSD, after the Drug Enforcement Administration officially refused to downgrade it to Schedule II on Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal confirmed that the DEA rejected two petitions (filed in 2009 and 2011) to remove marijuana from Schedule I, a category reserved for the most dangerous drugs. DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said the decision was based on insufficient evidence that would justify reclassification of the plant.

Rosenberg wrote in a letter to the petitioners: "It does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse." 

Pot advocates are speaking out against the agency. "DEA's decision flies in the face of objective science and overwhelming public opinion. The reality is that half of U.S. states have already passed effective laws allowing patients legal access to medical cannabis, and it is changing lives,” said National Cannabis Industry Association executive director Aaron Smith in a statement. "Continuing marijuana prohibition forces critically ill people to suffer needlessly, leaves life-changing treatments undeveloped, and keeps patients and providers in limbo between state and federal laws.”

However, the DEA did announce a new policy that will seek to increase access to marijuana for researchers. The federal agency said more people will now be able to register to grow the drug “not only to supply federally-funded or other academic researchers, but also for strictly commercial endeavors funded by the private sector and aimed at drug product development.” The U.S. has relied on a single marijuana grower for federal research projects for nearly 50 years.

But while some viewed the new policy as progress, Smith says it still isn’t enough.

"We appreciate the positive step—however small—of opening up a few additional avenues for medical marijuana research. But patients deserve more,” he added. “Congress should help them by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act, allowing state programs and medical research to move forward without interference."

The DEA scheduling decision also pushes back against pressure from Democratic senators to remove the Schedule I classification. Eight of these senators wrote a formal letter to the DEA and Department of Justice in June, arguing that marijuana being both legal in some states and illegal federally has “wide-ranging implications for legitimate marijuana businesses, including access to banking services, the ability to deduct business expenses from taxes, and access for veterans.”

The continued Schedule I classification won’t have any effect on deterring pot use, though. A study released last October found that marijuana use in the U.S. has doubled over a recent 10-year period.

"President Obama always said he would let science—and not ideology—dictate policy," said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, in a statement. "But in this case his administration is upholding a failed drug war approach instead of looking at real, existing evidence that marijuana has medical value."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.