There was speculation last week that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration might be on the verge of downgrading the Schedule I classification of the cannabis plant. Unfortunately, the end result proved the implications behind the rumors were somewhat overstated, as the agency simply moved to ease the restrictions surrounding one of the herb’s most infamous non-intoxicating compounds in an effort to abridge the research process for Big Pharma.
Last Wednesday, Tom Angell with the Marijuana Majority revealed that he had obtained a letter from Congressman Earl Blumenauer that suggested the Food and Drug Administration and DEA were finally working together to reclassify marijuana under federal law. Although the details were vague, the document, which was sent to Blumenauer by the Justice Department, clearly states that the “DEA is currently reviewing two petitions to reschedule marijuana in accordance with the [Controlled Substances Act].”
The news of this development generated a great deal of excitement in marijuana advocates across the nation. The consensus was that regardless of how small the reform, if the federal government did finally decide to change the Schedule I status of the cannabis plant, it would be a big step in the right direction. An article published in SF Weekly suggested, “The drug is in a good position in Schedule I” because “there’s nowhere to go but down.”
Marijuana’s current Schedule I classification ranks it as one of the most dangerous drugs in the world, crippling the plant from becoming recognized at the national level as effective medicine for a multitude of conditions. Therefore, it is true that a simple downgrade to a Schedule II, which would classify the herb as having some medicinal value, would open up countless opportunities for the cannabis plant to flourish in the medical sector.
However, marijuana advocates did not stop to consider that the proposed rescheduling recently put forth by the federal government was only a stepping-stone to benefit the reptiles of the pharmaceutical industry.
It was later revealed in a press release that the DEA had decided to merely ease the regulatory requirements of Controlled Substances Act for researchers conducting FDA-approved clinical trials on the non-intoxicating compound of the cannabis plant known as cannabidiol or CBD. Essentially, the change will allow researchers who have already been granted approval to conduct clinical trials for CBD treatments, like GW Pharmaceuticals, to “modify their protocol and continue their research seamlessly” rather than delay studies while waiting for requests for additional marijuana to be approved.
To be perfectly clear – the DEA has not in any way rescheduled marijuana. The substance, even the CBD compound, remains a Schedule I dangerous drug in the eyes of the federal government. However, according to Uncle Sam’s leading drug enforcers, “because CBD contains less than 1 percent THC and has shown some potential medicinal value,” it is safe to loosen some of the restrictions for those involved in its research.
While most marijuana advocates have attempted to view this change in a positive light, the enthusiasm is not overboard.
Mike Liszewski with Americans for Safe Access told U.S. News that the DEA’s latest reform, while welcomed, “is barely moving the issue forward” and that facilitating research into a single cannabinoid “denies patients the benefits of research into the full range of cannabinoids that whole plant cannabis offer naturally.”
Of course, Big Pharma has fully embraced the DEA’s choice to simplify CBD research for those with the financial resources to get to the point of FDA approval. Seth Yakatan, CEO of Kalytera, a developer of synthetic CBD medications, recently told Forbes that the government’s decision “is certainly a step in the right direction towards the development and proof of CBD as an empirically efficacious compound.”
At the moment, it remains unclear whether the DEA’s latest reform is the singular result of the FDA’s recommendations for rescheduling or if there are other changes on the horizon for 2016. Yet, one thing is certain, any coming reforms will likely only apply to the pharmaceutical market and not go deep enough to have any impact on medical marijuana, as we know it.