The Drug Enforcement Agency has been standing in the way of science on marijuana for more than 40 years, according to a report by two drug reform groups.
“The DEA is a police and propaganda agency,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It makes no sense for it to be in charge of federal decisions involving scientific research and medical practice.”
The report was issued by the Drug Policy Alliance and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a cannabis research group.
DEA Stalls on Rescheduling Requests
Among other problems, the report alleges the DEA has repeatedly dragged its feet when presented with petitions to reschedule marijuana. The agency has the power to move the drug from schedule 1, the most restrictive category of controlled substances, to a less stringent schedule.
Cannabis has been listed under schedule 1 since the 1970s. It’s the category reserved for substances the government believes are highly dangerous, highly addictive, and medically useless. It also includes heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
Numerous reform groups have petitioned the DEA to reschedule weed so federal and state drug laws could be reformed. But on three occasions, in 1973, 1995, and 2002, the DEA waited years to respond to rescheduling petitions – forcing two petitioners to sue for a decision.
According to the report, he agency has ignored its own officials’ recommendations for how drugs should be scheduled. And the DEA has set up a “regulatory Catch-22,” the report says, by preventing scientific research on marijuana and then arguing there isn’t enough research to support rescheduling.
DEA Resists Marijuana Reforms
Together with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the DEA is one of the key federal agencies that stymie marijuana law reform at the federal level. It also carries out a pattern of federal harassment in states that have legalized medical or recreational pot.
President Obama said earlier this year that he’s open to working with Congress on rescheduling marijuana. And a growing number of lawmakers have indicated a willingness to do the same.
Yet the DEA is headed by Michele Leonhart, who has made it clear she doesn’t believe in reform and won’t enforce it on the ground, no matter what happens in Washington. Her intransigence has led to tension with Attorney General Eric Holder, her boss.
Report Comes Amid Changing Marijuana Law
The report comes just two weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives approved three amendments aimed at preventing the DEA from interfering in state MMJ and hemp programs. The agency has launched countless raids against medical providers across the country and recently seized seeds for an industrial hemp trial in Kentucky.
“Nobody should be afraid of the truth,” said Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, Democrat of California, who sponsored the medical marijuana amendment. “There’s a lot of other drugs that have harmful side effects. Is the downside of marijuana a harmful side effect? Or is there a positive side that actually does help? That needs to be proven.”
The DEA also plays a role, along with NIDA, in blocking research into the good side of marijuana. To date, NIDA has approved about 30 studies of the drug’s benefits. That number appears to be on the upswing, but the agencies still stand in the way of countless studies that could explore the uses of cannabis.
“The DEA has obstructed research into the medical use of marijuana for over 40 years and in the process has caused immeasurably suffering that would otherwise have been treated by low-cost, low-risk generic marijuana,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. “The DEA’s obstruction of the FDA approval process for marijuana has – to the DEA’s dismay – unintentionally catalyzed state-level medical marijuana reforms.”