NEW YORK (MainStreet) In another sign that the 2014 is turning out to be a watershed year for marijuana drug reform, the federal Department of Drug Enforcement (DEA) has sent up the first of what undoubtedly will be the first of many white flags.
After a historic House vote to defund the DEA's operating budget for marijuana enforcement in the states earlier in the month passed (with a similar one now in the Senate), the government agency has now asked the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to consider removing marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs as defined by the Controlled Substances Act.
This classification is, most reform advocates say, a major step forward to reform required at this juncture. It is, however, just the first step of many that still lie ahead for marijuana just on a legal and policy level to allow broader medical and continued encouragement for commercial development across the country.
"It is a good sign that the DEA is starting to walk back its policy of interfering with marijuana research and rescheduling," said Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project, a drug reform focused group. "Unfortunately, this is a very tiny step."
Just interdepartmental wrangling could take months, despite an abundance of readily available studies and other evidence. In addition, as many in the national medical movement know, Israel has led the world in cannabinoid research for close to the last decade. Such research is not possible in the U.S. now because of marijuana's Schedule I classification.
That said, as marijuana is rapidly turning into the medical story of the year, it is doubtful that the issue will stall for long. Ultimately in a departmental overview such as this, which is highly politicized, impetus comes from the White House.
The issues at stake are as simple as they are ultimately complex -- drug-based crime as it intersects with health care. These are the issues very much in the national spotlight this month in New York, Florida and Washington, D.C. (which falls under federal jurisdiction). Both state legislatures compromised their way to highly restrictive medical marijuana laws. In Florida, much wider use of medical marijuana is up for a landslide victory ballot vote in November. In D.C. the City Council unanimously decided to expand medical access and use.
It was also in Florida, where both the issue of DEA enforcement is ever-present and where a new study showing the efficacy of CBD and THC was introduced into the political arena by GOP gadfly and billionaire Sheldon Adelson, that these issues came to a head.
"The safety and medical efficacy of marijuana are long-established, and the FDA has previously approved specific studies that the DEA later denied," Fox said. "The time has come to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act scheduling system altogether so that states can determine their own policies and research approval can be left in the hands of agencies dedicated to science, not criminal justice."
His thoughts were echoed across the country, perhaps most viscerally by Keith Henson of Pierce County (Washington State) NORML. Washington State is set to open for recreational, adult use business on July 8 and has an established medical vertical. "We are not for re-scheduling," said Henson. "We are for de-scheduling. Re-scheduling will make prohibition worse."
While this may seem unlikely to casual observers (and on either side) this is not far from reality, even at the FDA. CBD, the "other" cannabinoid that is fast becoming a household word, is already being given to children with severe epilepsy. Dronabinol, which is pure, albeit a synthetic form of THC, is now classified by the FDA as a Schedule III drug and has been since 2010.
--Written by Marguerite Arnold for MainStreet