Good news, bad news on pot

  • Wednesday August 17, 2016
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Good news, bad news on pot

The federal government continues to lack a consistent policy for marijuana even as voters in more states than ever, including California, will soon vote on whether to legalize small amounts for recreational use. Medical cannabis is legal in 25 states and the District of Columbia " and is also on the ballot in other states this year " yet the feds prohibit almost all research, except for a small program at the University of Mississippi. That's about to change, as the Drug Enforcement Administration announced last week that it will make more marijuana available to researchers, the first step in allowing universities, research institutions, and other scientific organizations to finally conduct studies that advocates have long requested.

Unfortunately, the DEA last week declined to move marijuana from Schedule 1 " reserved for the "most dangerous" drugs " to the less restrictive Schedule II, which includes drugs like cocaine, Vicodin, and OxyContin, which are illegal to use recreationally but are seen to have medical benefits. Of course, as we have seen in recent months, public awareness of opiate addiction from powerful drugs like OxyContin have been growing. Last month, in a rare feat, Congress passed " and President Barack Obama signed " the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Republicans, however, blocked any funding for the bill, which pledges greater efforts to protect drug-dependent newborns and assistance to their parents.

Marijuana belongs in Schedule II; it's nowhere nearly as bad as heroin and LSD, which top the Schedule I list, and the DEA should recognize that.

But Charles Rosenberg, the head of the DEA, wrote that cannabis would remain in Schedule I because "it has no currently approved medical use in treatment in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse." Yet the absence of research that could demonstrate any benefits is perpetrated by the very same government agency.

Thankfully, the DEA has opened the door to more research. According to the New York Times, marijuana grown by approved institutions will qualify for use in clinical trials seeking the approval of federal regulators, and can be marketed. And some advocates said that removing the University of Mississippi's monopoly on research could have more benefits than reclassifying the drug.

The DEA has missed an opportunity to be proactive and diminish bias against cannabis. In the nearly two decades since California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis, there have been numerous medical advances in drug research. But because of stigma dating back to the old 1936 film Reefer Madness that scared parents, funding for legitimate cannabis research is extremely difficult to obtain. That should begin to change and we urge research institutions " public and private " to grow into their marijuana studies. Drug companies likewise should begin clinical trials to develop marijuana-derived medication.

And California can " and should " lead the way. The state has world-class public university systems that could support such research. The state took the initiative in 2004 with the passage of a measure establishing stem cell research, which created an agency to distribute grants. Today, millions of dollars is spent looking into new therapies for a variety of diseases. That's what is needed for marijuana, and if the federal government won't do it, then state lawmakers should.

In the meantime, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is on record as supporting moving cannabis to Schedule II, and should she win in November, researchers could benefit from a more helpful administration.

Marijuana is natural, and there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that it helps people living with HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, and other conditions. It's time to end the Catch-22 over marijuana research.