The Drug Enforcement Administration has rejected a petition by two governors to change marijuana’s classification under federal law. Currently, under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is labeled a Schedule I drug with other substances that have a high risk of addiction with no proven medical use like heroin and LSD.
Schedule I is the most restrictive category, reserved for drugs with the highest potential for abuse or addiction while drugs like methamphetamine and certain opioid painkillers like hydrocodone are in Schedule II. According to DEA Chief Chuck Rosenberg, the Food and Drug Administration has not found any accepted medical uses for marijuana.
As the most widely used illicit drug in the United States, it is considered by the federal government as a drug that has a high risk of abuse in spite of little evidence that marijuana is addictive in the way that heroin or certain opioids are.
The Governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo and Governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, were behind the petition to reschedule marijuana to a less restrictive class. They suggested in a letter responding to the DEA’s decision that perhaps the FDA may not be specialized enough to accurately investigate medicinal use of marijuana.
However, the FDA has stated that it must conduct rigorous clinical trials in order to determine the safety and usability of any substance to begin the federal approval process, something they are currently interested in doing with marijuana.
The DEA claims that they are open to scientific research about the effects of medicinal uses of marijuana on human study subjects. As of December 2015, federal drug authorities say that they will facilitate the study of the marijuana cannabinoid extract, cannabidiol (CBD), in clinical trials to test if this can effectively treat children with epilepsy.
They have also stated that they will continue to find ways to enable more clinical trials, including setting up more facilities that can produce marijuana for these trials. For now, the only place with the authority to do so is the University of Mississippi.
While the federal government remains unwavering in its decision about marijuana as a Schedule I drug, forty-two states and Washington D.C. have already legalized medicinal marijuana in some way.
Federal lawmakers have also pushed for the federal government to reconsider its classification of the drug. To reclassify marijuana, the FDA and the DEA will have to change course on their decision or Congress will have to pass a bill to be approved by Obama.
Until there is some change, marijuana will continue to be considered by the federal government to be a highly addictive illicit drug that resulted in over 700,000 law violations in 2014 alone.
Defense attorney Jason Kalafat commented, “Though the general population in the U.S. has warmed up to the idea of marijuana for medical use, it will take more time and clinical trials before the DEA and FDA are convinced. “