Bitter sweetly, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has affirmed the woeful mis-scheduling of cannabis as a Schedule I drug after sitting on a number of multi-year old petitions (and decades of formal administrative legal challenges).
Despite the existing Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that has supplied cannabis as a medicine to a handful of patients for decades, the law enforcement technocrats at DEA would have the public believe that cannabis is a proper Schedule I drug that has not proven to have any medical value (and is not a safe drug to interact with).
Broken: NIDA’s Marijuana Monopoly
While still embracing a ‘flat earth’ mentality on cannabis’ scheduling, the DEA thankfully acknowledged that they’ll set up a system that allows for the first time non-governmental sources for research-grade cannabis. A greater number of NIDA (and DEA approved) research protocol requests featuring cannabis-related compounds and delivery devices is expected to result in an increased need of cannabis to supply.
Ironically, previous efforts by law reform advocates to allow third parties to cultivate cannabis for medical research sought and failed to achieve these same self-directing administrative law reforms. The technocrats at DEA might be unelected, but apparently are not entirely immune from pressure from public advocates, scientists and businesses.
Rescheduling Cannabis to be Sort Of, Kind Of Legal
By not rescheduling cannabis from I to a lower schedule, thousands of cannabis-related and legally licensed businesses in over two dozen states that allow medical or adult use are still subject for federal law enforcement raids, prosecution, and possibly incarceration.
Due to an ode of bureaucratic inefficiency, it took DEA more than seven months to publicly affirm their internally-arrived ‘decision’ to maintain the status quo regarding cannabis’ Schedule I ranking. One petition had been languishing since 2011; the other from February of this year when the DEA acknowledged to petitioning US Senators that they’d already made a determination on their supposed re-examination of keeping cannabis in Schedule I, but would not release their re-examination until after the first half of the year. Seven months to affirm the status quo ante!
On an unaccountable whim, an individual who cultivates, processes, transports, sells or even possesses cannabis is still subject to federal arrest, prosecution and penalties (which very often include civil forfeiture of assets and/or incarceration). This is in a nation with 25 states that have legal medical cannabis businesses and four states with legal businesses that cater to non-medical adult use. Literally thousands of companies and tens of thousands of employees, owners and investors currently operating lawfully in the cannabis space at the state level must fear the potential of federal law enforcement shutting their businesses down, seizing otherwise legal assets and products, or getting arrested and prosecuted in the parallel criminal justice universe created by our system of federalism.
On the flipside to the positive, many of these thousands of cannabusinesses would be subject to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations and controls. Manufacturers and sellers of government sanctioned medicine would very likely not be able to legally or financially agree with becoming ‘pharmaceutical product’ producers and sellers.
Because of this, there are probably as many medi-pot companies around the country that took some temporary relief in the DEA’s decision to keep cannabis an illegal substance than those cannabis-related companies who want to try to comply as highly regulated medical product companies.
This non-decision decision from DEA affirms that Congress and/or the Executive Branch need to create new guidelines for drug scheduling, notably such that cannabis is down scheduled (or better—exempt from scheduling as compared to more dangerous drugs like alcohol and tobacco products). Otherwise, federal anti-drug bureaucracies that have fostered anti-marijuana policies for decades, aided and abetted by federal courts that defer to Congress, will not end the obvious mis-scheduling of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act.
Allen St. Pierre is vice-president of Communications and Public Advocacy for FreedomLeaf and a NORML board member