Report from Washington
In recent years, more and more people have expressed an interest in advancing medical research into potential benefits and risks associated with the use of medicinal marijuana.
I am among them, having supported efforts to address the burdensome processes that currently impede legitimate medical research on marijuana.
Unlike many other circumstances, I believe this is a situation in which President Obama has the authority to appropriately use his pen and his phone to remove barriers to research in order to help sick people.
Regrettably, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recently announced it is not changing the scheduling of marijuana, which is to remain a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substance Act, the same classification as heroin.
For comparison, oxycodone (OxyContin) and methamphetamine are Schedule II drugs. Schedule II controlled substances are defined as drugs that have a DEA-accepted medical use in treatment as well as a high potential for abuse.
Schedule I controlled substances such as marijuana, on the other hand, are substances which according to the DEA have no medical use and a high potential for abuse.
In other words, the DEA is saying that oxycodone and methamphetamine have medical uses, though they seem to have determined these drugs do not have high potential for abuse. I would say to the DEA, “Get your head out of the sand and look around. Marijuana has significant issues for which we should be concerned, but it seems to have nothing near the addictive qualities of oxycodone and methamphetamine.”
Keeping marijuana classified as a Schedule I drug and denying it may have medical use limits the ability of researchers to study the drug’s safety and effectiveness as a treatment.
Accordingly, rescheduling marijuana under the Controlled Substance Act would indicate that the federal government finally acknowledges an accepted medical use and would help to allow research into potential therapeutic benefits and risks of medical marijuana use.
There are countless reports of marijuana’s medicinal benefits in treating conditions including cancer, epilepsy, and glaucoma, but patients, doctors, pharmacists, and policymakers must have more to rely on than anecdotal evidence.
It is maddening that this Administration and this DEA seem to be continuing to refuse to make it significantly easier for scientists to study medicinal marijuana so that those patients, doctors, pharmacists, and policymakers can rely on science and facts.
I have been working to change the laws to permit the rigorous study of medicinal marijuana. But the President appears to be taking no action either way, creating a situation in which the federal government is not enforcing the law in some states and maybe enforcing the law in others, in effect prohibiting doctors from using medicinal marijuana.
For example, a mother with an epileptic child can purchase a marijuana tincture for her child in Colorado. She doesn’t know exactly what dose is appropriate, but knows it significantly reduces the amount of seizures her child endures. But if they travel to Virginia, she either has to risk arrest by state or federal officers by continuing to use the treatment, or instead, watch her daughter suffer.
Philosophically, I believe the laws of our country ought to either be enforced or changed. The President, it seems, turns a blind eye to blatant recreational use of marijuana, but callously allows his DEA to continue to block potentially life-improving medications. You see, in this case, the President has the ability to reschedule the drug through his DEA, but for unknown reasons, is neither enforcing nor changing the policy.
DEA also recently announced it is increasing the number of DEA- registered medical marijuana growers/manufacturers. Previously, only one entity in the United States—the University of Mississippi—had been authorized to produce marijuana for American researchers.
That, to me, is a step in the right direction.
While I am concerned that limited access potentially resulting from DEA’s decision not to reschedule marijuana may continue to delay potential treatments and therapies, I am optimistic its decision to expand the number of growers will make it easier for scientists to study medical marijuana and its risks/benefits.
This work may be of interest to folks at research universities in the Commonwealth, particularly Virginia Tech in the Ninth District which has agricultural expertise as well as a medical school based on doing research.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at (276) 525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at (540) 381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.