With any luck, by July of this year we will finally have that big first step from the federal government towards true marijuana reform. The Drug Enforcement Administration has been under quite a lot of pressure lately when it comes to the subject of rescheduling marijuana as a Schedule II drug, which would mean the federal government finally admitting that marijuana may have some recognized medicinal benefits.
“Almost half the states in the country have medical cannabis laws and major groups like the American Nurses Association and the American College of Physicians are on board,” Angell (founder of the Marijuana Majority) said in a statement. He said the Obama administration should use its authority to make the change “before this president leaves office.”
This also comes surprisingly soon after the smoke out at the White House, where hundreds of activists gathered to call President Obama to reschedule the plant. A letter signed by DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg was sent to Senator Elizabeth Warren as well as seven others in which he detailed the marijuana supply owned by the federal government that resides at the University of Mississippi.
The letter also described how the marijuana cultivated at the University of Mississippi is distributed to researchers – which shows that they supplied marijuana to an average of 9 researchers per year between the years of 2010 and 2015. That is around 45 researchers in a total of five years, a number that could not come close to enough to study the number of things there are left unknown about marijuana.
While this would in no way come close to legalizing or even decriminalizing marijuana, it would still be an extremely big step for our government after all these years and it could reduce penalties for arrest and expand research efforts significantly.
“That number is totally insufficient to meet public health needs and to answer the number of [research] questions that pop up yearly,” the Brookings Institution’s John Hudak said in an interview.
Now, we shouldn’t jump the gun and start celebrating just yet – the DEA has claimed more than once before that they were going to consider a petition to reschedule marijuana. In 2001 and 2006 they decided to keep marijuana at the same status as a Schedule I drug – and they also put off a decision on this petition since it was filed in 2011 and were supposed to be decided on by September of last year.
On the other hand, the most recently submitted letter also states that they have a review from the Food and Drug Administration with their assessment as to any potential medical benefit the plant may have. (Though the FDA’s recommendation is not available.) If the DEA were waiting on this report prior to making a decision – and if it impacts their decision positively – then perhaps the extended waiting period was for the best.
With any hope, we will see marijuana listed as a Schedule II substance for the first time since the Controlled Substances Act was created in the 1970s. Again, it’s not legalization by any means, but it’s a step forward on a national level and that is something you cannot simply ignore.