Despite the fact that 23 states have already legalized medical marijuana, the current federal policy is making it hard to conduct further research on the health benefits of cannabis. Since 1972, the Drug Enforcement Administration has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse.
“The federal government is stifling medical research in a rapidly transforming area of public policy that has consequences for public health and public safety,” said a report written by John Hudak and Grace Wallack, researchers at the Brookings Institution. “Statutory, regulatory, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers have paralyzed science and threatened the integrity of research freedom in this area.”
One of the report’s recommendations is to change the status of marijuana to Schedule II, which would acknowledge its potential for medical use. There are many restrictions that will be lifted once cannabis is relegated to Schedule II status, such as onerous registration and application requirements.
“Moving marijuana from Schedule I 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,” the report said.
However, rescheduling is a complicated process, given DEA’s long history of hostility toward marijuana reform. Since 1972, the government has been petitioned four times to reschedule the drug. Three of the petitions have been denied by DEA despite the advice of federal judges. The fourth petition authored by then governors Christine Gregoire and Lincoln Chafee has been under review since 2011.
For Brookings Institution, the quickest way to reschedule the drug may be through an act of Congress. Earlier this year, Senators Cory Brooker, Rand Paul, and Kirsten Gillibrand have introduced the bipartisan CARERS act, which currently has 15 co-sponsors from both parties.
Aside from that bill, Hudak and Wallack also pointed out other possible executive actions that the government can take, such as ending the DEA-mandated monopoly on cannabis grown for research, expanding the federal Compassionate Use Program, and simplifying FDA licenses and regulations required to do pot research.
“Medical marijuana reform should be an easy [issue] for a candidate seeking to connect with prospective voters and the expansion of medical research in the area should be an even easier consideration,” the report said. “Given public and congressional support for medical marijuana, the next president can use this issue as a springboard for overcoming gridlock in the early days of the new presidency.”
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