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Scientists and Lawmakers Urge U.S. Government to Reschedule Cannabis for Sake of Research

Scientists and lawmakers have made public pleas for the United States government to reschedule cannabis from a Schedule I to Schedule II substance to remove the regulations that are limiting research into cannabis’s efficacy as a therapeutic agent.

Over the past few months, collections of scientists and lawmakers have publicly called for the removal of barriers to medical marijuana research.

In a recent volume of Science, a pair of scientists published a letter claiming that the United States’ government is holding back the progression of research into cannabis because of its “overzealous regulations.”

University of New Mexico researchers, Associate Professor Jacob Vigil in the Department of Psychology and Assistant Professor Sarah Stith in the Department of Economics, claim that the regulations make it difficult for any meaningful research on cannabis’s risks and medicinal benefits to be conducted.

“Although the majority of the general public and the professional medical community in the United States support the therapeutic use of cannabis sativa as a pharmacological agent, the U.S. federal government’s Cannabis research policies have blocked externally valid, randomized clinical trials on the effects of Cannabis,” Vigil and Stith wrote.

Since 1970, the Drug Enforcement Agency has classified Cannabis sativa as a Schedule I drug, a category meant for substances that have a “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use.” The Schedule I classification causes hurdles for researchers, who must acquire a Schedule I research registration from the Drug Enforcement Administration and, in most cases, a Schedule I research license from the state-controlled drugs agency. Additionally, cannabis for research can only be accessed through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which can have delays of three to six months. Plus, the cannabis provided by the NIDA is “significantly less potent” than the cannabis available on the street, according to Science Alert.

“Millions of patients have been granted the authorization to use medical Cannabis and Cannabis-based products by their respective state Health Departments and four states have begun taxing and regulating Cannabis sold for ‘recreational’ purposes,” said Vigil and Stith. “However, the federal government continues to categorize Cannabis sativa as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, a more restrictive categorization than that used for cocaine, methamphetamine and PCP.”

The medical research that has been done, despite the regulation-caused difficulties, has shown cannabis to curtail pain and nausea, reduce spasms and seizures, limit and kill cancer cells, and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

In April, a bipartisan group of 24 congressional senators and representatives sent a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to push for the rescheduling of cannabis specifically to open up research. The additional obstacles caused by regulations, they claimed, have hindered the volume of clinical research into the efficacy of cannabis and thus have limited the collection of data.

“Twenty-three states have passed laws establishing medical cannabis programs and an additional seventeen have passed laws regarding the medical use of cannabidiol (CBD), a compound derived from cannabis,” the lawmakers wrote.  “Despite these developments, researchers, doctors, and patients in these forty states are still subject to federal barriers impeding innovation and medical research. Until we have comprehensive scientific research on the medical risks and benefits of cannabis and its derivatives, we will continue to debate this issue on the basis of outdated ideology instead of modern science.”

Eight Democratic senators revived pressure on the federal government for rescheduling just weeks ago by writing a letter to both the DEA and the Department of Justice. Signers of the letter include Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Barbara Boxer of California, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

The DEA announced that they were investigating whether to reschedule cannabis and had said they would make their decision by June, which has since come and gone. However, the DEA is in the “final stages” of its decision, The Wall Street Journal reports.