Despite Hopeful Rumors, No Change Is in Store for Marijuana's Outlaw Status

Marijuana rescheduling is not going to happen, it seems.
Marijuana rescheduling is not going to happen, it seems.
Gustavo Turner/L.A. Weekly

Despite rampant rumors to the contrary, it appears that the national liberation of marijuana from its outlaw status isn't going to happen anytime soon.

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced today that pot would remain a Schedule I drug on the DEA's list of controlled substances. That top category denotes drugs that have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." Schedule I drugs also include heroin, methamphetamine and LSD.

"Keeping marijuana in Schedule I shows that the DEA continues to ignore research, and places politics above science," said Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “In reality, marijuana should be de-scheduled and states should be allowed to set their own policies."

Reducing cannabis to Schedule II or lower could allow for limited medical uses and more research. Cannabis advocates were understandably deflated by Rosenberg's announcement.

"It's really sad that DEA has chosen to continue decades of ignoring the voices of patients who benefit from medical marijuana," said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority. "President Obama always said he would let science — and not ideology — dictate policy, but in this case his administration is upholding a failed drug war approach instead of looking at real, existing evidence that marijuana has medical value."

However, the Obama administration giveth as well as taketh away.

The New York Times reports that the administration will soon announce an expansion of the number of institutions that will be able to provide cannabis for legitimate research projects. Such facilities are currently limited to, well, one — the University of Mississippi, 

"We appreciate the positive step — however small — of opening up a few additional avenues for medical marijuana research," said National Cannabis Industry Association executive director Aaron Smith. "But patients deserve more, and Congress should help them by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act, allowing state programs and medical research to move forward without interference."

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At the same time, marijuana advocates have argued that this is one area where President Obama, who has said alcohol is more dangerous that cannabis, could make a huge impact without having to navigate a can't-do Congress. His administration could de-schedule pot without asking for permission from legislators.

Pushing marijuana to Schedule II or below would acknowledge, at least, the legitimacy of medical marijuana in states, like California, that have legalized it. 

"This unfortunate decision only further highlights the need for Congress to pass legislation curtailing the ability of DEA and other federal agencies to interfere with the effective implementation of state marijuana laws," Angell said. "A clear and growing majority of American voters supports legalizing marijuana outright and the very least our representatives should do is let states implement their own policies, unencumbered by an outdated Reefer Madness mentality that some in law enforcement still choose to cling to."

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