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Schedule I

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 16, 2011

    [Update! A slightly edited version of this commentary, entitled ‘If Obama can’t articulate his position on marijuana, why won’t he reconsider it?’, is is now online at The Hill.com’s Congress blog here. Please review and leave your feedback for members of Congress and their staff here.]

    Regardless of one’s opinion of President Obama as a political figure, it is hard to deny his skill as an eloquent orator. So it is notable, even newsworthy, when the Commander-in-Chief is publicly at a loss for words.

    Such was the case yesterday at a Presidential Town hall in Cannon Falls, Minnesota when a flustered, tongue-tied Obama attempted in vain to explain why his administration continues to oppose efforts to allow for the legal use of cannabis as a doctor-recommended medicine.

    Confused? Perhaps this transcript will help to better articulate the President’s position:

    Audience member: “If you can’t legalize marijuana, why can’t we just legalize medical marijuana, to help the people that need it?”

    Obama: “Well, you know, a lot of states are making decisions about medical marijuana. As a controlled substance, the issue then is, you know, is it being prescribed by a doctor, as opposed to, you know — well — — I’ll — I’ll — I’ll — I’ll leave it at that.”

    And leave it at that he did.

    It is curious that President Obama — someone who is use to speaking extemporaneously in public — could not articulate one single legitimate reason (nor could his former Press Secretary) why his administration believes in continuing the federal ban on marijuana, including the use of medical marijuana for ill patients. Obama’s failure to communicate becomes even more surprising when one considers that within just the past few weeks, high-profile members of the Obama administration have publicly put forward several alleged ‘justifications’ for why the federal government ought to be in the business of denying medical marijuana to sick people.

    For instance, the White House’s 2011 National Drug Control Strategy, released in July, devoted an entire section to rebuffing the notion of cannabis’ use as a legitimate therapy, stating:

    Marijuana and other drugs are addictive and unsafe, especially for use by young people. Unfortunately, efforts to “medicalize” marijuana have widened the public acceptance and availability of the drug.

    There is no substitute for the scientific approval process employed by the FDA. For a drug to be made available to the public as medicine, the FDA requires rigorous research followed by tests for safety and efficacy. Only then can a substance be classified as medicine and prescribed by qualified health care professionals to patients.

    In the wake of state and local laws that permit distribution of “medical” marijuana, dozens of localities have been left to grapple with poorly written laws that bypass the FDA process and allow marijuana to be used as a so-called medicine. … Outside the context of federally approved research, the use and distribution of marijuana is prohibited in the United States.

    In addition, less than one-month ago, Obama’s hand-picked DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart formally denied a nine-year-old petition calling on the agency to initiate hearings to reassess the present classification of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance without any ‘accepted medical use in treatment.’ Leonhart’s justification, as stated in in the July 8, 2011 edition of the Federal Register:

    [Cannabis possesses] a high potential for abuse; … no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; … [and] lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision. … [T]here are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving its efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts. … At this time, 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.

    So if the Obama administration is willing to make such allegations in writing, then why is the President afraid to own up to and repeat these claims in public? Likely because he, like a majority of Americans, are aware that there isn’t a shred of scientific support for the administration’s ‘Flat Earth’ position.

    So if the President of the United States can’t publicly articulate why we continue to arrest over one-half million Americans each year for possessing marijuana, then why are we as a nation continuing to engage in this destructive and illogical policy?

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 10, 2011

    The Israeli government this week formally acknowledged the therapeutic utility of cannabis and announced newly amended guidelines governing the state-sponsored production and distribution of medical cannabis to Israeli patients.

    A prepared statement posted Monday on the website of office of the Israeli Prime Minister stated: “The Cabinet today approved arrangements and supervision regarding the supply of cannabis for medical and research uses. This is in recognition that the medical use of cannabis is necessary in certain cases. The Health Ministry will – in coordination with the Israel Police and the Israel Anti-Drug Authority – oversee the foregoing and will also be responsible for supplies from imports and local cultivation.”

    According to Israeli news reports, approximately 6,000 Israeli patients are supplied with locally grown cannabis as part of a limited government program. This week’s announcement indicates that government officials intend to expand the program to more patients and centralize the drug’s cultivation. “[T]here are predictions that doctor and patient satisfaction is so high that the number could reach 40,000 in 2016,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

    The Israeli Ministry of Health is expected to oversee the production of marijuana in January 2012.

    Similar government-sponsored medical marijuana programs are also active in Canada and the Netherlands.

    By contrast, in July the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) formally denied a nine-year-old petition calling on the agency to initiate hearings to reassess the present classification of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance, stating in the July 8, 2011 edition of the Federal Register that cannabis has “a high potential for abuse; … no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; … [and] lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 8, 2011

    Earlier today, United States DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart reaffirmed in the Federal Register the administration’s ‘flat Earth’ position regarding the medical properties of cannabis.

    Responding to a nine-year-old petition to reclassify marijuana under federal law filed by a coalition of advocacy groups, including NORML and California NORML, Leonhart stated, “[T]here is no substantial evidence that marijuana should be removed from schedule I.”

    A summary of Ms. Leonhart’s ‘reasoning’ is below. (Read the DEA’s full response here.)

    DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

    Drug Enforcement Administration

    21 CFR Chapter II [Docket No. DEA–352N]

    Denial of Petition To Initiate Proceedings
    To Reschedule Marijuana

    AGENCY: Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Department of Justice. ACTION:

    Denial of petition to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana.

    (1) Marijuana has a high potential for abuse. The DHHS evaluation and the additional data gathered by DEA show that marijuana has a high potential for abuse.

    (2) Marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. According to established case law, marijuana has no ‘‘currently accepted medical use’’ because: The drug’s chemistry is not known and reproducible; there are no adequate safety studies; there are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts; and the scientific evidence is not widely available.

    (3) Marijuana lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision. At present, there are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved marijuana products, nor is marijuana under a New Drug Application (NDA) evaluation at the FDA for any indication. Marijuana does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. At this time, 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.

    Coalition advocates will be appealing Leonhart’s decision in federal court.

    NORML had previously filed a similar rescheduling petition with the DEA in 1972, but was not granted a federal hearing on the issue until 1986. In 1988, DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young ruled that marijuana did not meet the legal criteria of a Schedule I prohibited drug and should be reclassified. Then-DEA Administrator John Lawn rejected Young’s determination, a decision the D.C. Court of Appeals eventually affirmed in 1994.

    A subsequent petition was filed by former NORML Director Jon Gettman in 1995, but was rejected by the DEA in 2001.

    NORML will have additional information on this story in next week’s NORML media advisory.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 23, 2011

    House lawmakers introduced legislation in Congress today to end the federal criminalization of the personal use of marijuana.

    The bipartisan measure, HR 2306 – entitled the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011and sponsored by Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank and Texas Republican Ron Paul along with Reps. Cohen (D-TN), Conyers (D-MI), Polis (D-CO), and Lee (D-CA) – prohibits the federal government from prosecuting adults who use or possess marijuana by removing the plant and its primary psychoactive constituent, THC, from the five schedules of the United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Under present law, all varieties of the marijuana plant are defined as illicit Schedule I controlled substances, defined as possessing ‘a high potential for abuse,’ and ‘no currently accepted medical use in treatment.’

    Said Rep. Frank, “Criminally prosecuting adults for making the choice to smoke marijuana is a waste of law enforcement resources and an intrusion on personal freedom. I do not advocate urging people to smoke marijuana, neither do I urge them to drink alcoholic beverages or smoke tobacco, but in none of these cases do I think prohibition enforced by criminal sanctions is good public policy.”

    The ‘Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act’ seeks to federally deregulate the personal possession and use of marijuana by adults. It marks the first time that members of Congress have introduced legislation to eliminate the federal criminalization of marijuana since the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

    Language in this Act mimics changes enacted by Congress to repeal the federal prohibition of alcohol. Passage of this measure would remove the existing conflict between federal law and the laws of those sixteen states that allow for the limited use of marijuana under a physicians’ supervision. It would also allow state governments that wish to fully legalize and regulate the responsible use, possession, production, and intrastate distribution of marijuana for all adults to be free to do so without federal interference. (To date, lawmakers in six states have introduced legislation to legalize and regulate the adult use of cannabis, and separate statewide initiative measures are planned for 2012 in several additional states.)

    Speaking in support of the measure, NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said, “The federal criminalization of marijuana has failed to reduce the public’s demand or access to cannabis, and it has imposed enormous fiscal and human costs upon the American people. It is time to end this failed public policy and to provide state governments with the freedom to enact alternative strategies — such as medicalization, decriminalization, and/or legalization — without running afoul of the federal law or the whims of the Department of Justice.”

    You can read the full text of Allen’s remarks from today’s press conference, which is being reported today by major news outlets nationwide, here.

    NORML, along with representatives from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), worked closely with members of Congress in drafting the measure.

    Additional information regarding this measure is available from NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

    AFTERNOON UPDATE:

    Below is video of co-sponsor Steven Cohen (D-TN) speaking on the House floor today in favor of HR 2306: Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 30, 2009

    #1 Obama Administration: Don’t Focus On Medical Marijuana Prosecutions
    United States Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issued a memorandum to federal prosecutors in October directing them to not “focus federal resources … on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” The directive upheld a campaign promise by President Barack Obama, who had previously pledged that he was “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.” Read the full story here.

    #2 Public Support For Legalizing Pot Hits All-Time High
    A majority of U.S. voters now support legalizing marijuana, according to a national poll of 1,004 likely voters published in December by Angus Reid. The Angus Reid Public Opinion poll results echo those of separate national polls conducted this year by Gallup, Zogby, ABC News, CBS News, Rasmussen Reports, and the California Field Poll, each of which reported greater public support for marijuana legalization than ever before. Read the full story here.

    #3 Lifetime Marijuana Use Associated With Reduced Cancer Risk

    The moderate long-term use of cannabis is associated with a reduced risk of head and neck cancer, according to the results of a population-based control study published in August by the journal Cancer Prevention Research. Authors reported, “After adjusting for potential confounders (including smoking and alcohol drinking), 10 to 20 years of marijuana use was associated with a significantly reduced risk of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.” Read the full story here.

    #4 AMA Calls For Review Of Marijuana’s Prohibitive Status
    In November, the American Medical Association resolved that marijuana should longer be classified as a Schedule I prohibited substance. Drugs classified in Schedule I are defined as possessing “no currently accepted use in treatment in the United States.” In a separate action, the AMA also determined, “Results of short term controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.” Read the full story here.

    #5 California: Lawmakers Hold Historic Hearing On Marijuana Legalization
    State lawmakers heard testimony in October in support of taxing and regulating the commercial production and distribution of cannabis for adults age 21 and older. Additional hearings, as well as a vote on Assembly Bill 390: the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, are scheduled for January 12, 2010. Read the full story here.

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