Obama urged to reclassify “less dangerous” marijuana

From CBS News
In a recent interview, President Obama downplayed the hazard posed by marijuana, declaring the drug no more dangerous than alcohol and contrasting it with the graver risk presented by “harder drugs” like cocaine and methamphetamine.
And in a letter sent Wednesday, 18 Democratic members of Congress agreed, urging the president to put his money where his mouth is and direct the attorney general to reclassify the drug under federal law to reflect its lower risk factor.

“You said that you don’t believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous ‘in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.’ This is true,” explained the letter, which was spearheaded by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. “Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs. This makes no sense.”
The lawmakers bemoaned the “lives and resources” that are “wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws.” They also noted that Schedule I drugs have no recognized medical use, a stipulation that disregards “both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana.”

Moreover, they added, the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug means marijuana businesses in states where the drug is legal “cannot deduct business expenses from their taxes or take tax credits” under the federal tax code.

For those reasons and others, Blumenauer and his colleagues urged the president to instruct Attorney General Eric Holder “to delist or classify Marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II.”

The lawmakers’ request notwithstanding, it’s not clear that the Justice Department is willing to intervene in drug policy by reclassifying marijuana. At a congressional hearing last week, Michael Botticelli, the deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that despite the president’s recent public statements, the “Department of Justice’s responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.”

The administration has been “consistent in its opposition to attempts to legalize marijuana and other drugs,” Botticelli told the House Oversight Committee’s Government Operations subcommittee.
But despite the inertia of the federal bureaucracy, it’s clear that attitudes and statutes concerning marijuana are in a remarkable state of flux, changing more rapidly than government regulators may be prepared to handle.

In a CBS News poll released last month, 51 percent of Americans said marijuana should be legalized for recreational use, while 44 percent disagreed. That result, which tracked closely with other recent polls on the question, marked the first time a CBS News survey reflected majority support for legalization.

And in a watershed moment that seems to have catalyzed the national conversation about marijuana policy, Colorado and Washington state legalized pot for recreational use in 2012 election referenda. Since then, a handful of states have indicated they may follow suit.

Last Tuesday, the Washington, D.C. city council lent its preliminary approval to a bill that would decriminalize marijuana in the district, reducing the penalty for possession of small amounts of the drug to a $25 citation. To be enacted, the proposal must be passed once more by the council and approved by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray.

Congress would then have 30 days to block the measure by passing a resolution “disapproving” of it – a process that could throw into stark relief the disconnect between federal and municipal laws on marijuana use, if lawmakers choose to dive into the contentious debate.

While Congress has generally deferred to the D.C. government in recent years, there is a history of federal attempts to stymie the district’s marijuana laws – in 1998, the D.C. council approved medical marijuana use, but it was another decade before Congress allowed that decision to move forward.

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4 thoughts on “Obama urged to reclassify “less dangerous” marijuana

  1. Discussion w. accompanied this article more interesting than the article. Discussion reveals what I suspected: A bid for grant money rather than allowing “the thing speaks for itself.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/13/opinion/we-need-proof-on-marijuana.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20140213&_r=0

    We Need Proof on Marijuana

    By ORRIN DEVINSKY and DANIEL FRIEDMANFEB. 12, 2014
    We Need Proof on Marijuana
    Jennifer Heuer

    MANY people have heard the story of Charlotte Figi, a young girl from Colorado with severe epilepsy. After her parents began giving her a marijuana strain rich in cannabidiol (CBD), the major nonpsychoactive ingredient in marijuana, Charlotte reportedly went from having hundreds of seizures per week to only two or three per month. Previously, her illness, Dravet Syndrome, was a daily torture despite multiple high doses of powerful anti-seizure drugs.

    As news of Charlotte’s story moved from the Internet to a CNN story by Dr. Sanjay Gupta to Facebook pages, some families of children with similar disorders moved to Colorado, which recently legalized marijuana, to reap what they believe are the benefits of the drug.

    Dozens of other anecdotes of miraculous responses to marijuana treatments in children with severe epilepsy are rife on Facebook and other social media, and these reports have aroused outsize hopes and urgent demands. Based on such reports, patients and parents are finding official and backdoor ways to give marijuana to their children.

    But scientific studies have yet to bear out the hopes of these desperate families. The truth is we lack evidence not only for the efficacy of marijuana, but also for its safety. This concern is especially relevant in children, for whom there is good evidence that marijuana use can increase the risk of serious psychiatric disorders and long-term cognitive problems.

    The recent wave of state legislatures considering and often approving medical marijuana raises significant concerns. By allowing marijuana therapy for patients with diseases such as difficult-to-control epilepsy, are state legislatures endorsing the medical benefits and safety of a broad range of marijuana species and strains before they have been carefully tested and vetted? Marijuana contains around 80 cannabinoids (THC is the major psychoactive cannabinoid, largely responsible for the high) and more than 400 other compounds. The chemical composition of two genetically identical plants can vary based on growing conditions, soil content, parasites and many other factors.

    While the language of the legislation may be cautious, there is an implied endorsement of medical benefit for marijuana when a legislature passes a bill and a governor signs it into law, and the tremendous gaps in our knowledge are not effectively conveyed to the public.

    Where is the data showing that marijuana is effective for epilepsy? Although parents may report improvements in their children, it is important to remember that the placebo response is powerful, and the placebo response is greater in pediatric than adult studies.

    Before more children are exposed to potential risks, before more desperate families uproot themselves and spend their life savings on unproven miracle marijuana cures, we need objective data from randomized placebo-controlled trials.

    Based on studies showing that CBD can prevent seizures in animals and safety data from patients treated with a drug containing CBD and THC in Europe for multiple sclerosis spasms, we and other academic epilepsy centers are planning a controlled trial with pure CBD. As an initial step, we have approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement to treat children with CBD derived from marijuana plants in order to understand its safety and tolerability and potential drug interactions. This information will help us plan the placebo-controlled trials that we hope will begin in 2014 and will be completed within two years. There is no reason such studies cannot be done with other products derived from marijuana, such as the oil with high CBD and low THC sold in Colorado that was used by Charlotte Figi.

    Paradoxically, however, as state governments increasingly make “medical” marijuana available to parents to give to their children, the federal government continues to label the nonpsychoactive CBD — as well as THC — as Schedule 1 drugs. Such drugs are said to have “no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.” This designation hamstrings doctors from performing controlled studies. While it is possible to study Schedule 1 drugs in a controlled laboratory setting, it is extremely difficult to study these substances in patients. For our study, we keep the CBD in a 1,200-pound safe in a locked room, in a building with an alarm system.

    To foster research, we need to change compounds derived from marijuana from Schedule 1 to a less restrictive category. It is troubling that while few barriers exist for parents to give their children marijuana in Colorado, there are significant federal roadblocks preventing doctors from studying it in a rigorous scientific manner.

    When patients have not been able to get successful medical treatment, and they live in a state where the law allows medical marijuana for children — we are not suggesting they smoke the drug — compassionate use is reasonable.

    But for the long-term health of Charlotte and other patients like her, we urgently need valid data.

    Like

    • Parts of the NYT piece are inaccurate according to one of the longest, most respected cannabis researchers, Dr Lester Grinspoon. On both the need for more proof of its safety, and the possible negative effects on mental health, Grinspoon has said that data and history disprove both theories. See for instance his quote on right side of page. He also states that as cannabis use has continued to rise, schizophrenia rates have not.

      Like

      • Well it’s good to know that the data is there, because “science” is corrupted by the chemical industry (including Big Pharma)…the NYT piece is the same old “look an effective, natural alternative for *insert disease here*, BUT DON’T USE IT BECAUSE IT’S NOT PROVEN BECAUSE WE SAY IT IS OBEY US!!!!” bullshit.

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