Although the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced earlier this year that it would reveal its decision on whether to downgrade the Schedule I listing of cannabis within the first half of 2016, it appears that Uncle Sam’s leading dope henchmen are still at the drawing board—reportedly dissecting the plant in an attempt to determine which compounds may be important for medical use and which ones must remain classified as a public menace.
On Tuesday, DEA spokesperson Russ Baer told the Cannabist that while the agency was not yet prepared to make a determination on rescheduling cannabis, it was in the “final stages” of its eight-factor evaluation process, suggesting that a decision, whatever that might be, is well within reach. However, Baer refused to say when the cannabis community could expect the news.
“I can’t give you a time frame as to when we may announce a decision,” he said. “We’re closer than we were a month ago. It’s a very deliberate process.”
What is known is that the DEA has received “scientific and medical evaluations” along with a scheduling recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services. A letter dated April 4, 2016 indicates that the agency has met with officials with the U.S Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse to assist in the rescheduling debate.
Yet, Baer would not give any indication as to whether those recommendations were in favor of a reschedule or if all of the noise we’ve been hearing on this issue is simply the product of a long con.
All of the wild-eyed hope for a marijuana reschedule really heated up this year when the DEA fired off a letter to Senator Elizabeth Warren in April, suggesting that the agency’s plan was to make a rescheduling announcement “in the first half of 2016.” Of course, confusion surrounding the implications of the DEA’s agenda quickly produced a number of ridiculous reports implying that marijuana was soon to be made legal in every state across the nation. This is far from true.
As it stands, marijuana is classified a Schedule I, dangerous drug under the confines of the Controlled Substances Act. In the eyes of the federal government, this means that anything derived from the cannabis plant has no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. But a schedule downgrade would make some modest changes to Uncle Sam’s hammer-fisted attitude toward the herb—opening up the plant to be considered as having some worth in the scope of modern medicine.
Yet, unfortunately, it does not sound like the DEA—or the rest of the agencies with their hands in the rescheduling decision—are interested in loosening the restrictions for the entire plant.
Last month, Baer told aNewDomain that the DEA and other governmental agencies were struggling with the cannabis debate because they were still trying to “identify the parts of the plant that might have benefit, and separating out (the beneficial) components and distinguishing which “aren’t beneficial or harmful.”
Therefore, it is conceivable that if and when the DEA’s decision is finally made public, it will be somewhat of a disappointment—possibly only coming with a reschedule for non-intoxicating compounds like cannabidiol (CBD), while leaving our good friend tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the ranks of killer substances like heroin.
What is important to understand is that even if the DEA unleashes the cannabis plant, in its full form, very little will change for the average stoner or medical marijuana patient. A recent report from the Brookings Institution indicates that a decision to make marijuana a Schedule II drug would not have any impact on the medical marijuana industry, nor would it lead to national drug store chains, like CVS and Walgreens, stocking their shelves with cannabis products.
What’s more, as Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML pointed out in his latest analysis, rescheduling cannabis will not even make the herb that much more “accessible for clinical study.”
“These goals can only be accomplished by federally descheduling cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal intrusion,” Armentano wrote. “If the DEA fails to take this opportunity to take such action, then it is incumbent that Congress does so posthaste.”