Many States Have Legalized Medical Marijuana, So Why Does DEA Still Say It Has No Therapeutic Use?

 In Health, Medical Marijuana, National News

More than half the states–28, to be exact–including Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota as of the Nov. 8 election, and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for certain medical conditions.

And yet, the Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, defined by the 1970 Controlled Substances Act as a drug that has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use (emphasis is mine) in the United States. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

Only the Food and Drug Administration can determine whether marijuana has an accepted medical use, according to the DEA, and so far, it hasn’t. Because marijuana is a Schedule I drug, doctors can only “recommend” it to patients, not write prescriptions for it that they can fill at a drugstore.

But Congress has the authority to reclassify controlled substances, and the president can ask his attorney general, who oversees the DEA, or his Health and Human Services secretary, who oversees the FDA, to initiate rulemaking to reclassify them, Brookings Institution senior fellow John Hudak told me.

Don’t expect Congress or the Donald Trump administration to take those steps, though.

The closest Congress has come recently were identical bills introduced in early 2015 in the House and the Senate, neither of which came up for a vote. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect Status, or “CARERS,” Act, which had bipartisan support, would have reclassified marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, which includes drugs such as morphine and oxycodone that have a high potential for abuse but also have an accepted medical use. The CARERS Act also would have amended the Controlled Substances Act to say that its provisions related to marijuana did not apply to people complying with state medical marijuana laws.

And while Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said she would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, Trump was vaguer during the campaign. At a rally a year ago, he said only that “I think medical should happen” when asked about marijuana.


Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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