DEA: Decision Not Made on Marijuana Legalization

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is considering, but has not yet made a final decision on whether to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II controlled substance, a move that would essentially make medical marijuana legal in all 50 states.

Last week two media outlets, the Santa Monica Observer and the Denver Post published reports speculating that marijuana could be rescheduled sometime this summer. The Observer even set a date for the announcement – August 1st – and cited an unnamed “Los Angeles based DEA Attorney” as the source of the information.

"Whatever the law may be in California, Arizona or Utah or any other State, because of Federal preemption this will have the effect of making THC products legal with a prescription, in all 50 states," the Observer quoted the DEA lawyer as saying.

The two stories fueled rampant speculation in blogs and on social media that a rescheduling of marijuana was imminent. even published its own take on the rumors, calling them “unproven.”

“There is as yet no indication that the information published on the topic was accurate, and there has been no official confirmation the DEA would moving in that direction on 1 August 2016,” Snopes said.

“We don’t have anything official to report,” DEA spokesman Rusty Payne confirmed to Pain News Network.

Like many rumors, there is some truth in the details. In a letter sent several months ago to Sen. Elizabeth Warren and seven other U.S. senators, a DEA official said the agency was finally getting around to making a decision on a five year old petition to reschedule marijuana.

“And in that letter we said we hoped to have a decision around July first. That’s certainly not a deadline, that’s just neighborhood ballpark, around that time. So people are getting antsy as the time is getting nearer,” said Payne, adding that DEA would not be making the decision alone.

“The agency that determines whether or not something is a medicine is the FDA, not the DEA. That’s why we have to rely on their portion of an in-depth study to determine whether or not something should be rescheduled or essentially determined to be a medicine. And if the FDA rules something is not a medicine, we’re bound by that. We cannot move it ourselves. We can’t overrule or override FDA on that,” said Payne.

The DEA has already received a recommendation from the FDA on whether to reschedule marijuana, but has not disclosed it. In the past, both agencies have resisted any attempt to legalize marijuana at the federal level, even as dozens of states moved to legalize medical marijuana.

In 2011, the DEA rejected a similar petition, saying “the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”

Marijuana is currently classified as Schedule I drug – along with heroin and LSD – because it is considered to have no medical benefit and has a high potential for abuse. Moving it into the Schedule II classification, along with opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, could potentially make marijuana available by prescription in all 50 states.    

Such a decision would upend the $40 billion medical marijuana industry, which is mostly composed of small companies and dispensaries that have created a niche for themselves while dealing with a cornucopia of state laws and municipal regulations. Rescheduling would open the door for pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies to get into the marijuana business.

"Schedule II would be a nightmare for the cannabis industry," Andrew Ittleman, a lawyer for a Miami law firm that advises marijuana companies, said in Inc.