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Should marijuana be legal - or at least more accessible? Government's latest move sparks debate

Posted August 30

The government's latest move on marijuana has sparked debate. (Deseret Photo)

Marijuana proponents have had momentum of late, believing the debate over legalization is at a "tipping point," but U.S. officials just dealt a major blow to their quest to seek government reclassification of the drug.

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced that cannabis will remain a Schedule I controlled substance, placing it in the same class as drugs like Ecstasy and heroin, among others.

Explaining the reason for declining recent petitions to reschedule marijuana, the DEA said in a statement that "it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse."

DEA head Chuck Rosenberg sent a letter to petitioners Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-Rhode Island.), Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Washington) and Bryan Krumm, a nurse practitioner in New Mexico, claiming his decision isn't based on "danger," but is based on whether marijuana is "safe and effective medicine."

It's a decision that has sparked a variety of reactions. In a Forbes contributor piece, writer Emily Willingham called the decision "hypocritical" and said it ignores evidence from other organizations that say cannabis can be effective at helping with nausea among other symptoms.

Willingham questioned the decision, saying it reflects an old-school mentality about marijuana that will actually harm the public's trust of the government.

"It certainly reflects a dangerous and hypocritical throwback attitude about cannabis that will only add to distrust of governmental oversight agencies, making their decisions look like political or moral judgments rather than being evidence-based," she wrote.

Others had starkly different reactions, though. Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, an anti-cannabis organization, wrote the following reaction on its Facebook page: "A great victory for common sense."

And Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that works to "prevent another big tobacco," said that he was pleased to see the Obama administration's position on the matter.

"Big Marijuana was counting on President Obama to reschedule or even deschedule marijuana, in order to circumvent the FDA process to turn a quick profit on unregulated products," Sabet said. "But this decision means that medications based on marijuana will have to go through the same rigorous testing process as all of our other medications.”

Despite declining to reclassify, the DEA did agree to increase the number of authorized manufacturers that can supply marijuana for researchers. It's a change the agency said is "designed to foster research."

The change allows for a larger variety of marijuana to be available to researchers, as there was previously only one entity — the University of Mississippi — that was permitted to produce the drug for FDA-aligned research.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote in a recent op-ed that the refusal to change the designation will likely stop viable treatments for people who can truly use them. Gupta called the decision to keep cannabis a Schedule I drug, while allowing additional producers for research, a largely "symbolic" act.

"No matter how much marijuana is available, if access is still difficult, it hardly matters. Imagine a product that is in high demand but kept behind a locked door," he wrote. "In response to the demand for the product, someone makes a baffling decision to make more of it but still never unlocks the door."

Gupta said marijuana is the product and the locker door is its current Schedule I designation.

The DEA's decision not to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II substance comes as pro-cannabis activists have seen increased momentum toward legalizing the drug for recreational and medicinal purposes.

Schedule II drugs, much like Schedule I, are seen as holding the potential for abuse as well as "severe psychological or physical dependence."

Some examples are methadone, cocaine, Adderall and Ritalin. Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, meaning the government sees it as having "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

But while the federal government is essentially doubling down, nine states will have cannabis on their ballots in some form this November. The drug is already legal for recreational use in Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon.

Maine, Arizona, California, Massachusetts and Nevada will decide on recreational legalization this year, while Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Montana will decide on medicinal legalization, The Hill reported.

The DEA's decision also came just after the release of a Barna Group study that found 32 percent of the public believe all drugs should be illegal; an additional 40 percent believe recreational marijuana should be legal.

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

8 Comments

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  • Lin Park Aug 30, 7:59 p.m.
    user avatar

    I am researching this topic and I would like some opinions.

    Legalization and why?
    Non-legalization and why?
    Recreational or medical?

    I would like some interesting perspectives.

  • Jeff Hardwick Aug 30, 6:50 p.m.
    user avatar

    So the "War on Drugs" is based on political ambitions, not facts or science, in other words there is no basis of any kind for our current laws other than political ambitions of two disgraced politicians (Nixon resigned, Ehrlichman went to jail). Basically we have been arresting people for no reason at all. How can this be good law?

  • Jeff Hardwick Aug 30, 6:46 p.m.
    user avatar

    President Nixon tasked the Shafer Commission (National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse) to make recommendations concerning marijuana policy in the 1970's. The commission favored ending marijuana prohibition. It concluded that cannabis did not cause widespread danger to society. It recommended using social measures other than criminalization to discourage use. It compared cannabis to alcohol (which kills approximately 88,000 annually). Nixon ignored the recommendation and classified Marijuana as a schedule 1 drug . The sole reason for this was to disrupt political influence of anti-war protesters and African-Americans. This led to the decades long "War on Drugs" that has jailed 2.5 million Americans and cost billions of dollars.
    In an interview for Harpers Magazine John Ehrlichman stated: "We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

  • Erika Phipps Aug 30, 4:50 p.m.
    user avatar

    Not a user or fan of pot, seen it abused by mentally ill, but have seen alcohol abused by more. So long as hard liquor is legal, so should pot be, with similar restrictions - just not the state of NC controlling its sale via archaic "package" stores.

  • Mike Jones Aug 30, 3:08 p.m.
    user avatar

    Alcohol kills how many people each year?

  • William James Aug 30, 3:05 p.m.
    user avatar

    I was just thinking, clearly marijuana is going to become legalized in more and more states, that is just a fact. So, why not legalize it for growing in NC, we would be the first southern state, we already have all the land and equipment and distribution outlets set up from big tobacco. Just saying what ever southern state first legalizes it is going to become extraordinarily rich. Also, it would probably save the state a few billion in policing of marijuana, courts costs, and especially prison costs ($30,000yr per inmate). Also, it would get rid of drug cartel influence and crime in this state.

  • William Patterson Aug 30, 2:42 p.m.
    user avatar

    marijuana should never have been made illegal in the first place and was done so by intense lobbying efforts by both the pharmaceutical and timber industries to eliminate it as competition ...the brainwashing campaigns only worked on the weak minded.The fact that alcohol is legal and marijuana is not makes it all seem like a cruel joke. It was by forcing its use underground that users had to associate with criminal elements where they made connections with pushers of harmful drugs were given the opportunity to be exposed to them .This was all done to make Marijuana look worse than it actually is. All animals seem to like it as well...especially Deer.It will remain a controlled substance until our government can find a way to make money off of it and still maintain the authority to produce it exclusively so private growers won't undermine the governments ability to capitalize on it.Its illegal status never had any thing to do with the health or safety of the general population.

  • Aiden Audric Aug 30, 1:40 p.m.
    user avatar

    No restrictions.