The DEA announced this week that marijuana will continue to remain illegal for any purpose. After considering rescheduling marijuana from its current position as a schedule I substance to a schedule II substance, the DEA has decided to keep marijuana where it is. This decision to maintain marijuana’s current position means that the DEA believes that cannabis has absolutely no medicinal use. The DEA cited a lack of scientific studies and no consensus among medical experts for its decision, “at this time, 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,” stated the report.
What are the positives?
There are some positives that have come out of this new report by the DEA. The report found no evidence that the use of marijuana leads to abuse of other illicit substances, officially putting an end to the “gateway theory”. Once a rallying cry for anti-marijuana advocates, the DEA has finally discredited the “gateway theory” due to lack of evidentiary support. The report by the DEA was also followed by a series of new rules in the Federal Register to dictate the future of cannabis research. The DEA has officially removed the monopoly on the production of cannabis for research, which was previously held by the University of Mississippi. This new expansion, in theory, allows for more competition in the production of marijuana for study, providing the platform for the growth of higher quality marijuana for use in medical studies.
These relaxed growing regulations also come with an expanded ability for marijuana research. The research of marijuana is no longer limited to universities, so private companies can now dive into cannabis research as well. This will allow for even more pilot programs that can hopefully provide the clinically tested evidence that the DEA is looking for.
What does it mean for the current industry?
There should not be much noticeable change in the current marijuana programs that are run in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana. The Ogden memos, put into place by the Obama administration, currently allow for the continuation of state-legalized industries despite the Controlled Substances Act. There could even be some positive aspects from the cannabis industry continuing in its current position, however precarious it is. Alex Halperin reported in Rolling Stone that, “[I]f the federal government determines that medical marijuana must be subjected to FDA approval, companies would have to enter a process that can take years to complete and cost more than $1 billion per product. Few, if any, cannabis companies in the U.S. have the resources for that, which might open the door for Big Pharma to muscle in and take over the business.” Cannabis maintaining its position as a schedule I substance could save the industry a lot of money and allow for the continuation in the diversity of products we see on the market today.
What do people in the industry have to say?
There have been mixed responses from people across the marijuana industry, ranging from content to skeptical with the decision. HelloMD’s Chief Medical Officer, Perry Solomon, MD, had much to say about the DEA’s newest decision.
"The FDA making more growing sites available is wonderful. Unfortunately, it will take several years for whatever product the other sites grow to become available for study and all studies will still have to be approved. Then the studies have to be done and results evaluated which can take another year or so. So, the time frame from today to seeing published studies can be 2-5 years from now, perhaps longer, doubtfully shorter.
It is, however, a terrific public relation stunt. It makes it look like the FDA is actually moving forward with allowing more research to be done, which it is…years from now. There are thousands of studies from all over the world that have shown the efficacy of using cannabis for many medical conditions. 25 states and DC currently have cannabis laws in place that allow for it to be used for various medical conditions.
Part of the denial from the DEA could also be in their self interest. With 2.8 BILLION dollars in their budget, they have their own self perpetuating agency to maintain. Part of the issue that the DEA is also left with is how to schedule cannabis. If they move it to Schedule 2 like Percocet, how is the prescription written by a physician? You can’t just write “cannabis”. There is no exact analysis of what you are prescribing as there is with any “normal” drug like aspirin or even Percocet. Who will be manufacturing the cannabis, how is it dispensed to patients, is it edible, tinctures, etc? The logistics are enormous. The easiest course is to de-schedule cannabis completely, so it can be over-the-counter. The patient can then pick whatever type of product, concentration, etc. of cannabis they want. Of course analysis of the product needs to be tightly controlled in that situation as well."
It is clear to people in the medical marijuana industry that the good cannabis can do is undeniable, but the DEA continues to deny it. The DEA, however, does not benefit from legalized marijuana. The DEA receives billions of dollars a year, a lot of which goes to searching out and seizing illegal drugs. Much of the DEA’s revenue comes from seizing products like marijuana, meaning that legalizing marijuana would cut off one of their main sources of revenue. Though it may be a long road coming, this commotion around marijuana rescheduling could help the future of the cannabis industry.
What does this mean for the future of cannabis?
All of the news coverage on the DEA’s decisions to maintain the status of cannabis has definitely brought the marijuana industry prominently into the daily news cycle. From investors to everyday people, the issue of marijuana is front and center in peoples minds. With more opportunities for research, hopefully more private companies will look into researching marijuana. The coverage on cannabis has also brought the issue of marijuana legalization into the minds of voters. Marijuana legalization is up for a vote eight states this coming November, and current country wide polls show an overwhelming majority of the American people in favor of medical marijuana legalization and over 50% in favor of recreational legalization. It is not likely that marijuana’s maintained position as a schedule I substance will change its political standing, even with the impending presidential change. Both Clinton and Trump, the democratic and republican presidential nominees respectively, are in favor of maintaining the current system of state-run marijuana industries. In the coming years, hopefully we will see a variety of clinical marijuana studies that show what we see time and time again in anecdotal evidence, that marijuana can be extremely beneficial for aiding people with a range of medical conditions.