DEA Ends Monopoly on Medical Marijuana Research

According to a not-so-surprise announcement today, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has denied a petition to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Thus, marijuana, along with LSD, heroin, and other drugs deemed to have no medical purpose, will remain a so-called Schedule One narcotic. As the Weekly reported in 2013, the DEA has consistently and successfully fought appeals by advocates of marijuana legalization to end the war on weed by taking it off the Schedule One list.

However, the DEA did announce a significant change by ending the longstanding monopoly on the production of medical-grade cannabis.

In ending the monopoly held held by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the DEA argued that while both NIDA and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) state that there is still no clear evidence of marijuana's medical value, more studies, particularly regarding cannabidiol, or CBD, are needed to clear up the issue.

"Although the effects of CBD are not yet fully understood by scientists, and research is ongoing in this media, some studies suggest that CBD may have uses in the treatment of seizures and other neurological disorders," the DEA ruling states. "A growing number of researchers have expressed interest in conducting research with extracts of marijuana that have a particular percentage of CBD and other cannabinoids. DEA fully supports research in this area."

Currently, only the University of Mississippi has a contract to grow medical-grade marijuana. Now, under the DEA's new guidelines, that monopoly has officially been ended.

"The historical system, under which NIDA relied on one grower to supply marijuana on a contract basis, was designed primarily to supply marijuana for use in federally funded research—not for commercial product development," the ruling explains. "Thus, under the historical system, there was no clear legal pathway for commercial enterprises to produce marijuana for product development. In contrast, under the new approach . . . persons may become registered with DEA to grow marijuana not only to supply federally funded or other academic researchers, but also for other strictly commercial endeavors funded by the private sector and aimed at drug product development."

Most significantly, the DEA states in its ruling, "should the state of scientific knowledge advance in the future such that a marijuana-derived drug is shown to be safe and effective for medical use, pharmaceutical firms will have a legal means of producing such drugs in the United States."

Although few observers seem to be surprised that the feds failed to reclassify cannabis as anything other than a dangerous drug, the fact that the DEA has ended is being viewed as a significant reform. In an article published today for the Brookings Institution, marijuana researcher John Hudak declared that the shift in policy on medical research is an important victory for advocates of marijuana reform.

Citing recent polls that show an overwhelming number of Americans—including likely presidential voters—support marijauana legalization, Hudak argues that the DEA knows that the days are numbered for the war on weed. "DEA is hyper-aware of these societal changes," says Hudak, "and it has also seen policy change in the [Obama] administration as a signal of what is to come.

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