For years, advocates and lawmakers alike have urged the DEA to reclassify cannabis within its schedule of controlled substances. Cannabis' current Schedule I federal classification not only puts it legally among some of the most dangerous narcotics (including heroin and ecstasy) but also has far-reaching effects all over the country. Now, the agency has indicated that it will make a decision regarding changing cannabis' status later this year.
As the Washington Post reports, former governors Christine Gregoire and Lincoln Chafee submitted the latest 2011 petition to the DEA regarding the classification of cannabis. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy also co-wrote the petition and provided a detailed look into how the Schedule I classification affects more than just those who are charged with federal crimes.
Lack of Scientific Access
Because of the federal government's strict marijuana laws, it prohibits the cultivation of marijuana for scientific study. Only the government itself can grow cannabis for research and, because they're the only source, they cannot produce enough of it. In fact, from 2010 to 2015, only nine researchers received legal, government-grown cannabis for research.
"That number is totally insufficient to meet public health needs and to answer the number of [research] questions that pop up yearly," said John Hudak from the Brookings Institution. As more and more states reconsider their cannabis laws, research is needed to better inform lawmakers and communities of the science behind cannabis—research that simply cannot be done under the government's current laws.
Lack of Academic Interest
Not only do current federal cannabis laws make it hard for universities and scientists to have access to cannabis, they make it hard for them to even want to study it in the first place. Due the complex federal regulations surrounding cannabis, many institutions elect to avoid the administrative diligence and risks required to legally acquire the plant.
"People just aren't applying because of all the headaches involved," Hudak added. "It's a huge disincentive for the academic community."
Lack of Patient Access
Perhaps most troubling is that federal cannabis laws and their effects on scientific progress mean that the medical benefits of cannabis are not available to the people who need it. Families in need have had to move to other states to give themselves access to cannabis or resort to looking for answers to their own medical treatment online—answers that researchers, doctors, and qualified professionals should be providing them.
Still many are hopeful that 2016 is the year that the federal government finally recognizes that cannabis does not belong among Schedule I substances that have "no medical use and a high potential for abuse." The agency has announced that it will make its decision in "the first half of 2016."
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