Guest Editorial: DEA should get real on pot
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug, which means it has no medicinal value and is highly addictive. But the Drug Enforcement Administration is, once again, considering moving it to a less restrictive category that better reflects both its danger and the undeniable facts on the ground — that nearly half the states in the nation allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes, and several allow it to be used recreationally. The DEA told lawmakers that it intends to make a decision by July.
The schedule 1 designation for marijuana has been a ludicrously restrictive classification since it was imposed in 1970, lumping cannabis in with heroin and LSD. The DEA has twice considered and rejected requests to reclassify the drug over the last two decades. The last time was in 2011. Frankly, a change is long overdue.
The DEA’s reluctance in the past to reclassify the drug has hindered research that could shed light on the uses (or dangers) of marijuana as a medicine, and could help guide smarter marijuana policies in general. Because it is a schedule 1 drug, researchers interested in studying its health effects have faced bureaucratic hurdles and strict controls, including limited legal access to the drug. Last year, just eight researchers received marijuana for medical study from the one government-sanctioned cannabis farm in the country. So, the federal government has effectively suppressed research on marijuana, and then authorities argue there are not enough long-term studies of the medicinal value and health risks of marijuana use to justify reclassifying it.
The lack of research hasn’t stopped 23 states from allowing the use of the drug for pain relief and other medical purposes. But it has denied doctors and patients important information about the risks or benefits.
Nor has the schedule 1 classification stopped voters in four states from legalizing marijuana for adult use. Yet the DEA still treats marijuana as if it’s as addictive as heroin and more dangerous than cocaine and methamphetamine, which are listed as schedule 2 drugs.
It’s heartening that the federal government is reconsidering this misguided policy. The easiest, most sensible move would be for the DEA to reclassify marijuana so that it’s treated as a prescription drug, complete with Food and Drug Administration oversight. The harder, but inevitable question as more states consider legalizing recreational use is whether federal authorities and lawmakers should remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether so states can choose whether to regulate marijuana for adult consumption without running afoul of federal law.