The United States Drug Enforcement Administration has rejected a pair of administrative petitions that sought to initiate rulemaking proceedings to reschedule marijuana under federal law.
Although the DEA’s ruling continues to classify marijuana in the same category as heroin, the agency also announced in a separate decision that it is adopting policy changes designed to expand the production of research-grade cannabis for FDA-approved clinical studies.
Presently, any clinical trial involving cannabis must access source material cultivated at the University of Mississippi — a prohibition that is not in place for other controlled substances. Today, the agency announced for the first time that it will be seeking applications from multiple parties, including potentially from private entities, to produce marijuana for FDA-approved research protocols as well as for “commercial product development.” This change was initially recommended by the DEA’s own administrative law judge in 2007, but her decision was ultimately rejected by the agency in 2011.
Below is a statement from NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano regarding the DEA’s decisions:
For far too long, federal regulations have made clinical investigations involving cannabis needlessly onerous and have placed unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on marijuana that do not exist for other controlled substances, including some other schedule I controlled substances.
While this announcement is a significant step toward better facilitating and expanding clinical investigations into cannabis’ therapeutic efficacy, ample scientific evidence already exists to remove cannabis from its schedule I classification and to acknowledge its relative safety compared to other scheduled substances, like opioids, and unscheduled substances, such as alcohol. Ultimately, the federal government ought to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal intrusion.
Since the DEA has failed to take such action, then it is incumbent that members of Congress act swiftly to amend cannabis’ criminal status in a way that comports with both public and scientific opinion. Failure to do so continues the federal government’s ‘Flat Earth’ position; it willfully ignores the well-established therapeutic properties associated with the plant and it ignores the laws in 26 states recognizing marijuana’s therapeutic efficacy.
Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the cannabis plant and its organic cannabinoids are classified as Schedule I prohibited substances — the most restrictive category available under the law. By definition, substances in this category must meet three specific inclusion criteria:
The substance must possess “a high potential for abuse”; it must have “no currently accepted medical use” in the United States; and, the substance must lack “accepted safety for use … under medical supervision.”
Substances that do not meet these criteria must, by law, be categorized in less restrictive federal schedules (Schedules II through V) and are legally regulated accordingly. Alcohol and tobacco, two substances widely acknowledged to possess far greater dangers to health than does cannabis, are not classified under the Controlled Substances Act.
A recent review of FDA-approved clinical studies evaluating the safety and efficacy of herbal cannabis concluded: “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that Information on safety is lacking.”
Added Armentano: “The DEA’s decision is strictly a political one. There is nothing scientific about willful ignorance.”
The DEA has previously rejected several other rescheduling petitions, including a 2002 petition filed by a coalition of marijuana law reform and health advocacy organizations, and a 1972 petition filed by NORML. The petitions that triggered this latest DEA action were filed in 2009 by a nurse practitioner and in 2011 by then-Govs. Christine Gregoire of Washington and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.
Marijuana consumers do not access health care services at rates that are higher than non-users, according to data published online ahead of print in the European Journal of Internal Medicine.
Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin assessed the relationship between marijuana use and health care utilization in a nationally representative sample of 174,159,864 US adults aged 18 to 59 years old.
Authors reported “no significant increase in outpatient health care visits and overnight hospital admissions in marijuana users compared to non-users.” They also reported that those who consumed cannabis multiple times per day were no more likely to seek health care patient services as compared to those who used the substance less frequently.
They concluded, “[C]ontrary to popular belief, … marijuana use is not associated with increased healthcare utilization, [and] there [is] also no association between health care utilization and frequency of marijuana use.”
A previous assessment, published in 2014 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, similarly reported that the use of marijuana within the past three months was not associated with adverse effects on health, comorbidity, ER visits, or hospitalization.
An abstract of the study, “Marijuana users do not have increased healthcare utilization: A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) study,” appears here.
More than two in three military veterans say that medical cannabis should be legal, and 75 percent believe that VA physicians should be able to recommend marijuana therapy to eligible patients, according to the results of the 7th annual membership survey of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American (IAVA).
Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they “support the legalization of medical marijuana in their state.” Only 20 percent oppose legalizing medical cannabis access.
Seventy-five percent of veterans “believe the VA should allow medical marijuana as a treatment option where warranted.” Fourteen percent of respondents disagreed.
Founded in 2004, the IAVA states that it is “the leading post-9/11 veteran empowerment organization with the most diverse and rapidly growing membership in America.”
In May, majorities in both the US House and Senate voted to include language in the 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to permit VA doctors to recommend cannabis therapy. However, Republicans sitting on the House Appropriations Committee decided in June to remove the language from the bill during a concurrence vote.
Sixty-five percent of Americans ages 18 and older believe that “government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth” and 55 percent of respondents say that the plant’s use ought to be legal, according to national polling data compiled by YouGov.com.
Those living in the western region of the United States (65 percent), Hispanics (64 percent), Democrats (63 percent), and those under 30 (63 percent) were most likely to endorse legalizing marijuana use. Republicans (45 percent), African Americans (44 percent), and those over the age of 65 (40 percent) were least likely to be supportive.
By contrast, a majority of respondents of all ages and political persuasions agreed with the notion that marijuana law enforcement costs more than it’s worth.
In response to a separate polling question, respondents agreed by a margin of more than 2 to 1 that the government should not enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states that have legalized its use.
A majority of those polled also disputed the allegation that cannabis use is a ‘gateway’ to other illicit drug use. Of those under the age of 60, only 25 percent believed the claim.
The YouGov.com survey polled 1,000 US citizens and possesses a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.
Montana voters will decide this November on a statewide initiative to restore and expand elements of the state’s medical cannabis program.
The Secretary of State’s office has affirmed that initiative proponents, Montana Citizens for I-182, submitted sufficient signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
The Montana Medical Marijuana Act (I-182) amends the state’s existing law to expand the pool of patients eligible to access cannabis therapy and removes certain restrictions on recommending physicians and providers. The measure also establishes a regulatory scheme overseeing the testing and distribution of medical cannabis products.
Montana voters initially approved ballot initiative language in 2004 authorizing qualified patients to possess and grow medical marijuana. In 2011, lawmakers passed legislation significantly revising the law. This spring, members of the Montana Supreme Court upheld several of those amendments, including provisions that called for additional oversight for physicians who recommend cannabis therapy to more than 25 patients annually, and permitting law enforcement to engage in warrantless inspections of the premises of marijuana providers.
Voters this November will also decide on separate statewide medical use measures in Arkansas, Florida, and Missouri.
Initiatives to permit the adult use of cannabis are pending in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. A Michigan initiative remains in litigation.
Summaries and status of pending 2016 statewide initiatives is available from NORML’s Take Action Center here.