Through a letter sent to lawmakers this week, the Drug Enforcement Administration reveals plans to decide on changing the medical classification of marijuana in the next few months.
Currently classified as a Schedule1 drug alongside heroin and LSD, marijuana is considered to have a high abuse potential and with no recognized medical use. Changing its federal status will help researchers better study its potential uses and benefits – a move that medical marijuana advocates have been pushing for.
While still believed to have a high potential for abuse, Schedule 2 drugs – such as morphine and cocaine at present – maintain an accepted medical use for treatment and can be prescribed while being tightly regulated.
“Reclassifying cannabis will make scientific research easier and will send a strong signal that the U.S. government is finally ready to acknowledge that marijuana has medical value,” says Marijuana Majority Chair Tom Angell in a Washington Times report.
Signed by the heads of the DEA, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the letter states that the agency has obtained medical and scientific evaluations along with a scheduling recommendation from HHS, which it did not disclose. It adds that the DEA hopes to release a decision by the first half of this year.
Rescheduling a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2 drug is quite rare, something that the agency has done only five times, as shown by a 2015 Brookings Institution report.
The tight restrictions in place have led others to conduct clinical trials on the effects of cannabinoids, marijuana’s active compound, instead of marijuana itself, which is legal for medicinal use in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
According to a 2015 Marijuana.com report, the DEA also received a recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration about a potential reclassification, although it remains unknown what the recommendation states. It is also uncertain whether the agency would respond to the petitions before President Barack Obama leaves the White House to give way to a new president.
While federal authorities shut down more state-legal medical marijuana firms during Obama’s first term than during George W. Bush’s two-time presidency, Obama signed two budget bills preventing the justice department from spending money to interfere with laws on state medical cannabis – Obama’s “very mixed legacy” on the matter, says Mike Liszewski of Americans for Safe Access in a previous interview.
More than six out of 10 American adults now believe that marijuana use should be made legal, according to a newly released national polling data by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
In California alone, 60 percent of registered voters say they will favor an initiative in November to legalize the substance for recreational use under state laws and allow government to tax its retail sales, as reflected in a Probolsky Research poll in February.
Some experts also argue that prohibition drives markets undergoing, putting the control in the hands of people operating outside the law. Regulation is hoped to allow authorities to maintain oversight and set legal boundaries for how a cannabis market for adults should operate.
There are others, however, who are not too hopeful about the DEA’s forthcoming decision, given its history of rejecting petitions to reschedule marijuana. The latest was in 2011, a time when a slew of medical researchers and organizations started to come out and speak in favor of rescheduling.