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STEVE ELLIOTT

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Demonstrators calling for the legalization of marijuana outside of the White House, in Washington, Saturday, April 2, 2016[The Washington Times]
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Demonstrators calling for the legalization of marijuana outside of the White House, in Washington, Saturday, April 2, 2016
[The Washington Times]

Incredibly, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration on Thursday will once again refuse to move marijuana off Schedule I, the most restrictive classification available under the Uniform Controlled Substances Act. This decision keeps it nearly impossible to conduct scientific research on the medical effects and benefits of cannabis, and keeps marijuana in the same classification as heroin and LSD.

Chuck Rosenberg, Drug Enforcement Administration: "Quote" [Business Insider]
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Chuck Rosenberg, Drug Enforcement Administration:
“This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine, and it’s not”
[Business Insider]

In an announcement scheduled to appear in the Federal Register, the DEA will turn down requests to remove marijuana from Schedule I, which classifies it as a drug with “no currently accepted medical use” in the United States, and prohibits doctors from prescribing it, reports Lenny Bernstein at The Washington PostThe agency most recently rejected a similar request in 2011.

This leaves the federal government in conflict with 25 states and the District of Columbia, which have passed laws allowing medical use of cannabis to various degrees. Members of Congress have called for its federal reclassification, and on August 10, the National Conference of State Legislatures passed a resolution asking the federal government to take marijuana off Schedule I.

Both methamphetamine and cocaine and Schedule II drugs under federal law, meaning both are officially considered safer substances by the United States federal government.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, along with Washington Governor Jay Inslee and New Mexico's XXX XXXX, filed the rescheduling petition to the DEA [InsideGov]
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Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, along with Washington Governor Jay Inslee and New Mexico nurse practitioner Bryan Krumm, filed the rescheduling petition with the DEA
[InsideGov]

Speculation in recent months had run rife that the DEA would reclassify cannabis as a Schedule II substance, which would have made it more accessible for medicinal research, but would also have effectively given control of it to Big Pharma.

According to a 2015 Brookings Institution report, a move to Schedule II “would signal to the medical community that FDA and NIH are ready to take medical marijuana research seriously, and help overcome a government-sponsored chilling effect on research that manifests in direct and indirect ways.”

DEA Chief Chuck Rosenberg claimed the decision was rooted in science, reports Carrie Johnson at NPR. Rosenberg said he gave “enormous weight” to conclusions by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” and that it remains highly vulnerable to abuse as the most commonly used so-called “illicit drug” in the United States.

“This decision isn’t based on danger,” Rosenberg claimed. “This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine, and it’s not.”

New Mexico Nurse Practitioner Bryan Krumm was one of three petitioners, along with the Governors of Rhode Island and Washington [Green Flower]
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New Mexico Nurse Practitioner Bryan Krumm was one of three petitioners, along with the Governors of Rhode Island and Washington
[Green Flower]

While that would certainly come as news to the tens of thousands of medicinal cannabis patients in the U.S. who get relief from the herb, it represents business-as-usual for the federal drug enforcement agency, which has been in denial of prevalent cannabinoid science for decades now.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and New Mexico nurse practioner Bryan Krumm had petitioned the DEA to reschedule marijuana. In a letter to the petitioners, Rosenberg said doctors are responsible for treating patients, but that the FDA makes the call about drug safety: “Simply put, evaluating the safety and effectiveness of drugs is a highly specialized endeavor.”

Rosenberg and the DEA, of course, could have just asked patients if they got relief from using cannabis, but they didn’t do that, nor did they ask physicians what helped their patients the most. They simply adopted a posture defensive of current drug laws, then tried desperately to weave some coherent narrative around the continued insanity.

Professor Lyle Craker of the University of Massachusetts fought for years to conduct scientific research on marijuana. The DEA denied him. [Toke of the Town]
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Professor Lyle Craker of the University of Massachusetts fought for years to conduct scientific research on marijuana. The DEA denied his applications.
[Toke of the Town]

The DEA actually claimed it has “never denied” an application from a researcher to use lawfully produced marijuana in a rigorous medical study. I wonder what Professor Lyle Craker would have to say about that.

“As long as folks abide by the rules, and we’re going to regulate that, we want to expand the availability, the variety, the type of marijuana available to legitimate researchers,” Rosenberg claimed.“If our understanding of the science changes, that could very well drive a new decision.”

The agency will announce one policy change that could increase the amount of marijuana available for research, according to officials. The DEA will increase the number of places allowed to grow federal cannabis for medical studies.

Currently, only The University of Mississippi, which holds an exclusive contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is federally licensed to grow weed. It is unclear how many additional facilities will be allowed to grow cannabis for researchers.

While Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) praised the decision to allow more places to cultivate marijuana for research, he said the decision doesn’t go nearly far enough.“This decision… is further evidence that the DEA doesn’t get it,” Congressman Blumenauer said. “Keeping marijuana at Schedule I continues an outdated, failed approach—leaving patients and marijuana businesses trapped between state and federal laws.”

Congressman Earl Blumenauer: "Quote" [The Oregonian]
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Congressman Earl Blumenauer:
“This decision is further evidence that the DEA doesn’t get it”
[The Oregonian]

“More than half the states — and counting — have legalized some form of medical marijuana,” Rep. Blumenauer said. “It’s outrageous that federal policy has blocked science for so long.”

“Americans have spoken, with a majority supporting full legalization,” Blumenauer said. “It’s not enough to remove some barriers to medical research. Marijuana shouldn’t be listed as Schedule I; it shouldn’t be listed at all. It is imperative, as part of the most progressive Administration on marijuana in history, that the DEA work to end the failed prohibition of marijuana.”

Research has already shown that some components of cannabis — the cannabinoids — have great promise as treatments for epilepsy and chronic pain. 

Dr. Orrin Devinsky of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at New York University Langone Medical Center: "Quote" [NYU Langone Medical Center]
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Dr. Orrin Devinsky of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at New York University Langone Medical Center:
It is “deeply disappointing” that the DEA didn’t reschedule marijuana
[NYU Langone Medical Center]

No fewer than 42 states allow either CBD-only or full medical marijuana use (17 CBD laws and 25 medical marijuana states), but the feds haven’t yet entered the 21st Century despite prodding from some federal lawmakers. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) last month endorsed the idea of loosening federal laws on cannabis, and “providing a reasoned platform for future legalization” in its platform.

Currently the only two clear paths left to change the federal classification of cannabis would be for a group of federal agencies including the DEA and the FDA to approve it; or for Congress to pass a law, the for the President to sign it.

Under current rules, researchers will continue to have to receive DEA and FDA approval to conduct medical studies of marijuana; NIDA studies will only look for harms, not benefits.

Tom Angell, Marijuana Majority: "Quote" [Marijuana Majority]
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Tom Angell, Marijuana Majority:
“It’s really sad that the DEA has chosen to continue decades of ignoring the voices of patients who benefit from medical marijuana”
[Marijuana Majority]

Dr. Orrin Devinsky of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at New York University Langone Medical Center said it was “deeply disappointing” that the DEA hadn’t rescheduled cannabis, report Catherine Saint Louis and Matt Apuzzo at The New York Times. He said the scientific data overwhelmingly indicate that marijuana should not be listed as such a dangerous drug.

“It’s really sad that the DEA has chosen to continue decades of ignoring the voices of patients who benefit from medical marijuana,” Tom Angell, chairman of pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, told Toke Signals Wednesday evening. “President Obama always said he would let science — and not ideology — dictate policy, but in this case his administration is upholding a failed drug war approach instead of looking at real, existing evidence that marijuana has medical value.

“This unfortunate decision only further highlights the need for Congress to pass legislation curtailing the ability of DEA and other federal agencies to interfere with the effective implementation of state marijuana laws,” Angell said. “A clear and growing majority of American voters support legalizing marijuana outright and the very least our representatives should do is let states implement their own policies, unencumbered by an outdated ‘Reefer Madness’ mentality that some in law enforcement still choose to cling to.”

Aaron Smith, National Cannabis Industry Association: "Quote" [Aaron Smith / Twitter]
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Aaron Smith, National Cannabis Industry Association:
“DEA’s decision flies in the face of objective science and overwhelming public opinion”
[Aaron Smith / Twitter]

“DEA’s decision flies in the face of objective science and overwhelming public opinion,” said National Cannabis Industry Association executive director Aaron Smith. “The reality is that half of U.S. states have already passed effective laws allowing patients legal access to medical cannabis, and it is changing lives.

“Continuing marijuana prohibition forces critically ill people to suffer needlessly, leaves life-changing treatments undeveloped, and keeps patients and providers in limbo between state and federal laws,” Smith said.

“We appreciate the positive step – however small – of opening up a few additional avenues for medical marijuana research,” Smith said. “But patients deserve more, and Congress should help them by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act, allowing state programs and medical research to move forward without interference.”

 

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