People hoping to see the federal government rethink its policy on medical marijuana are reportedly not going to get their wish. The Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to announce at some point today it will keep pot on the “Schedule I” classification on the Federal Register. But The Washington Post points out there is a little bit of good news for marijuana activists.
The decision will keep the federal government at odds with 25 states and the District of Columbia, which have passed laws allowing medical use of marijuana to some degree. Members of Congress have called for its reclassification and on Wednesday, the National Conference of State Legislatures adopted a resolution asking the federal government to remove marijuana from Schedule I.
The agency will announce one policy change that could increase the amount of research conducted on marijuana, the officials said. The DEA will expand the number of places allowed to grow marijuana for studies of its value in chronic pain relief, as a treatment for epilepsy and other purposes. Currently, only the University of Mississippi,which holds an exclusive contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is federally licensed to grow marijuana for research purposes.
Reason’s Jacob Sullum thinks changing the policy on research is a really big thing.
The DEA’s decision to start licensing additional suppliers of marijuana is more surprising. Currently the only authorized source is the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which obtains marijuana from a contractor at the University of Mississippi. That monopoly is anomalous, since the DEA allows multiple licensees to produce other Schedule I drugs for research. Scientists have complained that NIDA, whose mission emphasizes marijuana’s hazards, has been reluctant to share its stash with researchers interested in marijuana’s benefits. They also have been frustrated by the mediocre quality and minimal variety of NIDA’s marijuana. Although the agency recently started offering strains that are high in cannabidiol, a compound in marijuana that shows promise in treating seizures, it still does not offer the high-THC strains that some researchers are interested in studying.
The FDA is apparently to blame for the reclassification not happening with The Post reporting the agency believes “medical and scientific data do not yet prove that marijuana is safe and effective as a medicine.” Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson obviously disagrees and has said in the past marijuana helped him manage pain from breaking his back twice. Several acquaintances of mine have also credited pot with helping them deal with a variety of maladies, and the family of now ten-year-old Charlotte Figi says marijuana keeps her from suffering epileptic seizures. The National Cancer Institute wrote last August there’s evidence suggesting cannabinoids, “may inhibit tumor growth by causing cell death.” It could be the FDA is filled with neanderthals who aren’t interested in changing the rules, or they’re just blockheads.
This isn’t saying marijuana isn’t dangerous, especially if it’s smoked. There was some research presented in 2014 which looked at secondhand marijuana smoke exposure, which showed some blood vessel problems. Via Verywell.com:
This research looked at the effect of secondhand marijuana smoke on blood vessels, albeit in rodents. Rats that were exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke had a 70 percent reduction in blood vessel function. (These results were the same for rats exposed to marijuana smoke containing THC as those not, so it was considered likely that THC alone wasn’t the culprit.)
Of even more concern was that whereas blood vessel function returned to normal after 40 minutes for rats exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke, this wasn’t the case for the marijuana smoke group; in the rats exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke, blood vessel function remained affected after this interval.
Of course, smoking anything is probably dangerous which is why cannabis oil is becoming a thing. Even the state of Texas legalized cannabis oil last year, which means epilepsy patients can get access to it with a prescription. It’s unfortunate the FDA isn’t interested in something similar, but hopefully that will change sooner rather than later. Just because I have zero interest in using marijuana (in any form) doesn’t mean others shouldn’t get the opportunity, especially if it helps them cope better with pain. If the federal government were to loosen the regulations on pot it could open the door for a whole new market in pain treatment, and allow smaller businesses to profit. Of course, this is also the federal government we’re talking about, which tends to hand out favors to friends and allies. We’ll probably never know if that’s why marijuana isn’t being reclassified (gotta help Big Pharma keep its money) but the FDA and DEA should take the risk and reclassify pot. It might bring them more tax money, which the government is supposed to be for, right?