DEA Considers Rescheduling Marijuana

The US Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced that it is evaluating whether to downgrade the classification of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, which could allow more research into its potential medicinal benefits. A decision is expected this summer.  

DEA enforces the CSA, which classifies drugs into five different schedules largely based on the drug’s danger. Marijuana has long been classified as a Schedule I drug — a category reserved for drugs with a “high potential for abuse” that have “no currently accepted medical use” and are so dangerous that they cannot be used safely, even under medical supervision. The DEA letter came in response to a July 9, 2015 letter from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and seven other Senate Democrats urging the federal government to take steps to facilitate “sensible research” into marijuana’s medical benefits. 

In its April 4 letter, the DEA said it received scientific and medical evaluations from the Department of Health and Human Services, along with a scheduling recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration, which DEA will use to make a decision about reclassifying. Over the years, and most recently in 2011, DEA has repeatedly rejected petitions to reschedule marijuana. There does not seem to be any indication whether DEA actually plans to move the drug to a less restrictive class this time. 

Rescheduling marijuana would not automatically make it legal under federal law for medical, much less recreational, use. It could, however, open the door to additional medical research using the drug and its derivatives by easing restrictions for researchers. It could also allow FDA to take a more active role in the drug’s regulation. 


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