DEA to Revisit Marijuana Schedule

DEA to Revisit Marijuana Schedule I Status by July 2016

Responding to multiple letters sent by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and others last year that pressed the Drug Enforcement Administration for explanation regarding its current barriers to medical studies of marijuana, the DEA announced in April that it hopes to review the status of marijuana as a Schedule I drug by July.

This news has important implications for veterans, as a move from Schedule I to Schedule II would open the doors for substantially more medical research on marijuana treatments. Currently, VA doctors are prohibited from discussing the use of medical marijuana to combat any illnesses, including PTSD and physical pain, with patients. The VA has said that its reason for this is the lack of research availability on medical marijuana’s viability. If the DEA elects to reschedule marijuana to a lower class, that research may become available in the next few years.

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In its 26-page response, which was signed by representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the DEA, the Administration stated that it “understands the widespread interest in the prompt resolution” of marijuana’s Schedule I status, and it “hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016.”

Currently, marijuana’s Schedule I status places it alongside heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and peyote as a substance that has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” According to the DEA’s Drug Scheduling page, Schedule I substances are the “most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules, with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.” This means that, according to the federal government, marijuana is more dangerous than methamphetamine, cocaine, and such prescription drugs as oxycodone and Adderall.

Furthermore, the Schedule I status places substantial obstacles upon those who wish to study the medical effects of marijuana use. Currently, only one facility, located at the University of Mississippi, is federally approved to grow marijuana for research purposes, and potential researchers must undergo an extensive, bureaucratic process to receive both approval and the actual marijuana for their studies.

Because of its cumbersome nature, this process also acts as a deterrent for those in the medical community who might otherwise consider conducting research on the drug.

Should the DEA opt to reclassify marijuana as Schedule II, researchers who wish to legally obtain marijuana for clinical studies would face significantly fewer barriers. Both project approval and access to the drug for research purposes would be easier, and the medical community would be able to study potential medical benefits of the drug, filling in an informational gap in current medical data.

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