Editorials

DEA blows more smoke over marijuana

A pot farm in Calaveras County, Calif. Despite the growth in the medical marijuana industry, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reaffirmed Thursday that pot belongs on the nation’s list of dangerous Schedule 1 drugs.
A pot farm in Calaveras County, Calif. Despite the growth in the medical marijuana industry, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reaffirmed Thursday that pot belongs on the nation’s list of dangerous Schedule 1 drugs. aseng@sacbee.com

Reading the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s report on marijuana, on how it should remain one of the nation’s most dangerous drugs and has no medical value, we can’t help but wonder what rock the agency’s leaders have been living under. Or what they’ve been smoking.

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have legalized weed for medical use, starting with California way back in 1996. Three more states – Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota – will decide whether to follow suit this November.

Yet, according the DEA on Thursday, “there is no evidence that there is a consensus among qualified experts that marijuana is safe and effective for use in treating a specific, recognized disorder.”

In a long-awaited report, the agency doubled down on years of illogical policy. Pot, it said, will remain as it has been since 1970 – a Schedule I drug, on par with heroin. It will not be, as many expected, bumped to even a Schedule II drug, like the deadly opioid fentanyl.

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

This is the same circular argument that the agency has been making for years, even as states, with approval from the U.S. Justice Department, have steadily moved toward decriminalizing it. The drug remains in a legal gray area, though. The DEA, for example, spent $18 million last year destroying marijuana plants while people in three states were legally using it for fun.

What’s scary is that this movement toward legalization, including in California, has been happening without the benefit of controlled clinical trials. Much like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and guns, the DEA has made it almost impossible to study marijuana.

In a wise reassessment, the DEA did agree Thursday to remove some of the obstacles. No longer will the University of Mississippi house the sole facility licensed to grow pot for research. Others will be able to apply.

But even with that, the DEA took a tone-deaf approach. Instead of recognizing the urgent need for policymakers to know how weed affects everything from driving to child care, the agency signaled that it will enact strict rules for getting a license and issue a precious few of them.

What’s more, many of the licenses will go to big companies with deep pockets and lots of lobbyists, all looking to develop, patent and market particular strains as prescription drugs. Small growers, such as those in the Emerald Triangle who have been at this for generations, may find themselves left out of this Green Rush.

We needed clarity on marijuana. Instead, most of what the DEA gave us was just more smoke.

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