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Woody writes: "In April, the US Drug Enforcement Administration said it would review marijuana's classification as a Schedule I drug. While the DEA's announcement is a positive sign, many drug policy experts think it's unlikely the agency will actually decide to change marijuana's classification, despite a dramatic shift in public sentiment about the drug."

A man waves a Colorado flag with a marijuana leaf on it at Denver's annual 4/20 marijuana rally in front of the state capitol building in downtown Denver, April 20, 2015. (photo: Rick Wilking/Reuters)
A man waves a Colorado flag with a marijuana leaf on it at Denver's annual 4/20 marijuana rally in front of the state capitol building in downtown Denver, April 20, 2015. (photo: Rick Wilking/Reuters)

The DEA Is Getting Dragged 'Kicking and Screaming' Into the New World of Marijuana

By Christopher Woody, International Business Times

18 May 16


n April, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would review marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug, considered the “most dangerous class” of substances.

While the DEA’s announcement is a positive sign, many drug policy experts think it’s unlikely the agency will actually decide to change marijuana’s classification, despite a dramatic shift in public sentiment about the drug.

Marijuana’s position in the top tier of the scheduling system — which organizes drugs by their “acceptable medical use and … abuse or dependency potential” — has endured since the 1970s.

“DEA will carry out its assessment of the FDA recommendation in accordance with the [Controlled Substances Act] … and hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016,” the DEA said in a letter to a group of Democratic senators, first obtained by the Huffington Post.

The DEA’s statement was in response to a letter from Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic senators calling for the federal government to facilitate medical-marijuana research, which the Schedule I classification severely hinders.

Rescheduling marijuana into a different classification wouldn’t undo the prohibition on the drug, but would likely result in increased access to the drug for scientific purposes. Currently, the University of Mississippi is the only institution licensed to cultivate marijuana for research, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The announcement comes amid a broader reconsideration and embrace of marijuana for medicinal and recreational uses.

‘That clearly is not appropriate’

The national conversation on marijuana has been shifting for more than 20 years. In late 2015, 58% of Americans said marijuana use should be legal. As recently as the mid-1990s, only about 25% of Americans held the same position.

And since California began allowing medical marijuana in 1996, 22 other states and Washington, DC have followed suit, permiting the medical use of the drug in some form. 

Organizations like the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics have recognized marijuana’s therapeutic uses and called on the DEA to reschedule it. Even members of the federal government have joined the push recently.

“I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled,” former US Attorney General Eric Holder said in a February 2016 interview. “You know, we treat marijuana in the same way we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate.”

That groundswell of support, however, does not appear to be the impetus for the DEA’s review. The agency is acting on an administrative requirement, according to  John Hudak, the deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution.

“The advocacy community has suggested that DEA’s statement that they would decide on the Gregoire-Chaffee rescheduling petition this summer is a sign that they are moving toward reforming policy with regard to marijuana,” Hudak told Business Insider, referring to a 2011 petition from Govs. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Christine Gregoire of Washington state.

“The reality is that DEA’s statement offers no such signal,” Hudak said. “The petition has been before the US government for about five years, and DEA has an obligation to rule with the regard to a basic question: Is cannabis properly scheduled?”

The DEA has reviewed marijuana’s classification in the past, deciding in 2001 and 2006 to keep the drug at Schedule 1 — putting it ahead of drugs like cocaine, meth, oxycodone, and anabolic steroids, all of which are on Schedule II or III (though legal penalties related to those drugs differ).

“I would be surprised if DEA recommended rescheduling,” Hudak said.

Statements from the DEA’s acting chief would seem to back up Hudak’s impression.

“What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal — because it’s not,” acting DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg said in November 2015.

“We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don’t call it medicine — that is a joke.”

Rosenberg and the DEA seem wedded to this position despite pushback by scientists and changing public opinion.

“The DEA appears to be dragged into this kicking and screaming,” said Sanho Tree, the director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank focused on social-justice issues.

“Clearly there are medical uses for cannabis,” Tree told Business Insider. Legislators and others “aren’t going to stop asking the question, so they have to do something.”

‘A potent third-rail issue’

Despite the public’s increasing opposition to marijuana prohibition, political calculations may trump scientific and public opinion and keep the federal government committed to prohibition.

Tree said that broad public support for decriminalization or legalization has yet to carry over to the majority of legislators — with notable exceptions — “since they have to worry about reelection and drugs are still perceived to be a potent third-rail issue with which to smear opponents.”

Federal-government reluctance seems unlikely to slow the roll of officials and businesses at the state and local level, however. Fourteen states have legal marijuana on the ballot in 2016, and a recent report showed that, under certain circumstances, legalization could generate $28 billion in tax revenue at federal, state, and local levels.

Colorado earned more than $135 million in taxes and fees last year, and Washington state could earn more than $270 million in taxes by the end of this year.

Nationwide, between 21,000 and 33,000 businesses get some or all of their revenue from the marijuana industry.

Legalization efforts have also proven hearty in the face of legal challenges.

In March, the US Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Colorado’s legalization of the drug, and, in May, the Department of Justice dropped its four-year effort to shutter Harborside Health Center — the largest medical-marijuana dispensary in the country.

“Both parties will search for new wedge issues, but it will be harder to include drugs among them,” Tree told Business Insider. “Once we tame the black market and show people a formerly illegal substance can be legalized and regulated, it becomes harder to use the same scare tactics.” your social media marketing partner


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+29 # Buddha 2016-05-18 14:36
"You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

-John Ehrlichman (Nixon’s chief domestic advisor when the president announced the war on drugs in 1971) in an interview in 1994"
And the lies continue today, for much the same reasons.
+9 # ThorunnPS 2016-05-18 22:59
Such an appropriate name: Ehrlichman (ehrlich: honest in German). Too bad he wasn't so ehrlich when these sneak attacks were being planned.
+1 # economagic 2016-05-19 07:24
Didn't know that! The extent of my German is mostly what I picked up from conservatory voice majors in college 50 years ago.
+6 # Jayceecool 2016-05-19 00:26
And the amazing thing to remember is that Nixon's thugs claimed to represent "law and order"...
0 # TheWizardofRandR 2016-05-23 03:13
As too , LSD was also in govt. controlled agents , who were sent out with the Acid to control the Hippies and Beat generations but it had a opposite effect and the Feds failed to control us ! It created the LOVE generation out of the Baby Boomer Generation , a well educated generation compared to our Parents, who were a great generation but in a different way , due to WW2!
+15 # tigerlillie 2016-05-18 16:55
Clearly Chuck Rosenberg isn't the brightest bulb in the pack - his stance would be funny if the substance were legal, but I imagine he has the wit to not want to take the first step in the inevitable demise of his agency.
It will probably take the profit motive for the professional pols to act on this issue.
+8 # Thomas Martin 2016-05-18 22:10
"It will probably take the profit motive for the professional pols to act on this issue."
yes, and we know that the "profit motive in politics" refers to "Citizens United" and the resulting influencing of the votes of most of our elected officials - wouldn't it be nice to find a political leader who would and could counter this?!? - one comes prominently into mind!!!
+14 # Dred Pierce 2016-05-18 20:35
The police have become as addicted to cannabis bribery and chicanery as Al Capone was to alcohol. Unlike the mob, the police are too stupid to expand into the union rackets and vegas. They have to have their victims delivered to them on a silver platter. Now that they no longer serve the public in any capacity that doesn't include legally confiscating properties from ordinary citizens they are to be considered as what they are. Enemies of the people. Time to fill the prisons with the REAL gangsters. CHP and HA, birds of a feather.
+9 # Jayceecool 2016-05-19 00:23
More lies and corruption from the federal government. It's easy for the AMA to prove the medicinal value of marijuana, so it's obvious that a federal law enforcement agency is corrupt...
+11 # fletch1165 2016-05-19 01:01
You can switch a drunk who can drive and kill people to pot and he is weaned off alcohol for life. It works and sounds like a medicinal use to me that would save many lives. This DEA shill has to go if that is his position. He works for Big Tobacco and Alcohol clearly. And probably the Prescription Drug industry bribes him handsomely as well. He is clearly the real criminal in this picture. Total scum.
+12 # economagic 2016-05-19 07:27
The "War On Drugs" has had a constituency in government for 40 years dedicated to its own perpetuation. More recently the private prison industry has provided that constituency with significant propaganda at no charge.
+5 # Femihumanist 2016-05-19 12:25
The Doctor who certified me for medical marijuana thinks its BIG PHARMA lobbying that keeps even medical marijuana illegal in many places.

With all the pain killer addictions (opiods, NSAID, Acetaminophen) that kill, making money is more important than human life and comfort.

I can't even describe how everyday living is improved since I started using the marijuana tincture.
+3 # lfeuille 2016-05-19 17:36
Yeah, I'm sure Big Pharma lobbyist are working hard against legalization, as well as the liquor lobby.
+4 # lfeuille 2016-05-19 17:33
The DEA shouldn't have the authority to schedule drugs in the first place. They have a vested interest in keeping it a schedule one drug. They are just protecting the budget for fighting marijuana.
+3 # Billsy 2016-05-19 18:37
Given the sorry state of democracy today, our govt. may need to further relax cannabis laws simply in order to keep the public stoned, and thus, calm and complacent.
0 # reo100 2016-05-24 06:36
No, they have the language in the NDAA for that. Label you a domestic "terrorist", then strip you of habeas corpus rights. Remember Obama conveniently signed it into law after occupy wallstreet and it's been valid ever since.
0 # TheWizardofRandR 2016-05-23 02:53
So the Biggest Lie ever told and perpetrated on the American people , to get Hemp , all types outlawed so Federal Agents of Prohibition , once again claim BS to keep their jobs and Jail people into modern day enslavement by imprisonment, with keeping POT illegal to keep their 6 Billion$ budget and growing in tact
Anyone supporting this , is getting kickbacks from many sources ! Politician or Police or Federal Agents like u Rosie !

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