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The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Thursday that it would reject petitions to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule II drug or lower. As a Schedule I drug, marijuana use is strictly prohibited outside of research. A Schedule II classification would have allowed its usage as a federally-approved prescription medical therapy.The rejection, according to a Federal Register notice, was based on an analysis by the Food and Drug Administration and recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services.
According to NPR, in a letter sent to several petitioners and governors before the official notice, DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg characterized the decision as one not rooted in moral concerns or even lingering doubts about the dangerousness of marijuana, but about the legal obligation for Schedule II drugs to have medical efficacy. “This decision isn’t based on danger,” Rosenberg said. “This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the Food and Drug Administration, is a safe and effective medicine.” Rosenberg, who has acknowledged the “promise” of some cannabinoids in medicine, has also called the prospect of “smoking the leaf of marijuana”—its most common usage—a “joke.”
The notice from the DEA spelled out three reasons why marijuana would not be rescheduled: a potential for and history of abuse and addiction, lack of accepted medical use, and a lack of safety information. The last two reasons are part of the drug’s failure of a five-part FDA test that states that for a medicinal drug “the drug’s chemistry must be known and reproducible,” “there must be adequate safety studies,” “there must be adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy,” “the drug must be accepted by qualified experts,” and “the scientific evidence must be widely available.” The clinical data that could even meet the FDA’s review standards was subject to intense scrutiny. In the end, the FDA could only find 11 research articles that met its review qualifications of being randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies.