DEA's Move to Track Marijuana Extracts Could Advance Legal Research

Products at the High Times Cannabis Cup 2015
Products at the High Times Cannabis Cup 2015
Timothy Norris/L.A. Weekly

We know many folks in the marijuana nation won't shed a tear for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, which has a record of cracking down on medical marijuana in California.

But its latest move to track marijuana extracts with a new code number has sent unnecessary shock waves through the pot industry. It was interpreted by some cannabis publications as a lone-wolf move by the DEA to create law on its own and criminalize beloved cannabidiol (CBD), a medicinal oil that does not get patients high.

That's not the case. The publication last week of a final rule notice for a Controlled Substances Code Number for extracts in the U.S. Federal Register was a matter of bookkeeping that has been in the works since 2011, according to DEA spokesman Russ Baer. In fact, the separate designation could be a sign of enlightenment — that the agency is doing its job in allowing legitimate research on the most promising facet of medical weed.

Nonpsychoactive CBD has been used to treat epileptic seizures in children. The move to treat it separately from the DEA's tracking of marijuana research gives it special dispensation in the eyes of the federal government. "It's another example of the DEA's commitment to the science," Baer said.

Dale Gieringer, state director of California NORML, called the agency's move "a minor technical issue." "Basically what it comes down to is tracking extracts separately," he said. "They [media reports] made a big deal about nothing."

Tom Angell, founder and chairman of the group Marijuana Majority, has categorized some coverage of the DEA's extracts move as "fake" news. He pointed us to John Hudak, a fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank, who said on Twitter, "CBD has never been anything but a Schedule I substance. DEA did not reschedule it today, and anyone who says so is wholly misinformed."

The DEA's Baer agreed: "CBD, because it is derived from the marijuana plant, has been and continues to be a Schedule I substance." Schedule I is the DEA's top tier for outlaw drugs, which are deemed to have no legitimate use whatsoever. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

However, Baer suggested that the separate tracking for extracts could help researchers who want "research protocol waivers" for work on CBD to get them faster. "It allows us to identify those applications from the scientific research community who want to do extract research and give them priority over other applications," he said. "It allows us to prioritize those to facilitate and support scientific research."

Instead of a clampdown, this latest development could be a breakthrough for American cannabis research.


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