DEA Ignores Science, Refuses To Loosen Restrictions On Marijuana

SOURCEThink Progress

On Thursday, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) formally refused to reconsider its classification of marijuana, which is officially regulated as a dangerous substance with no medical value, alongside drugs like heroin and LSD. Despite a growing body of scientific evidence and changes in public opinion, the federal government has refused to budge on a 46-year-old stance borne out of the War on Drugs.

According to the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 61 percent of Americans support legalization. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) reports that eight out of ten Americans support medical marijuana legalization.

“It’s really sad that DEA has chosen to continue decades of ignoring the voices of patients who benefit from medical marijuana,” Tom Angell, the chairman of Marijuana Majority, said in a statement. “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.”

As public opinion moves in favor of legalizing pot, the DEA is clinging to the past — with little scientific evidence to back up their position.

Research has shown that pot has a multitude of medical benefits. And by reaffirming its position, the government has set back patients who relied on it for treatment for years.

Thursday’s announcement means pot will remain a Schedule I drug, defined as having “no medical value and a high potential for abuse.” That means the federal government believes marijuana is just as harmful as heroin and more harmful than cocaine. It also bars scientists from receiving federal funding and forces them to jump through hoops to conduct their research. Insurance companies are banned from covering marijuana treatment, so patients have to rely on the black market for treatment.

The DEA will, however, lift some significant barriers facing marijuana researchers. The University of Mississippi has had a monopoly on federally-licensed marijuana research, which makes it difficult for scientists to obtain samples to study.

Still, the limited scientific research conducted in the past few years debunks the myth that pot has adverse health consequences. On the contrary, it successfully mitigates a wide range of medical conditions and symptoms.

Pot is used to ease muscle spasms, prevent seizures, and reduce Parkinson’s and cancer symptoms. It alleviates chronic pain and reduces the likelihood of overdosing on other painkillers, including Vicodin and oxycodone. A recent study from the University of Georgia concluded that eight of nine conditions that medical marijuana is generally used for — anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and spasticity— have been treated successfully. Last year, the federal government conceded that pot can reduce aggressive brain tumors.

Gum disease is the worst long-term health consequence of marijuana that researchers have found.

As of 2013, 78 percent of physicians in the world support the use of medical marijuana. In May, Ohio became the 25th U.S. state to legalize it. Even Congressional Republicans who have long opposed pot legalization recently vocalized support for more medical marijuana research.


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Carimah Townes is the Criminal Justice Reporter for ThinkProgress. She received a B.A. in political science from UCLA, where she also minored in cultural anthropology. While in school, she served as a festival planner and interned with the Office of Mayor Villaraigosa. Before joining ThinkProgress, she worked for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and interned with the Communications and Development teams at Vital Voices Global Partnership. Carimah is originally from Amherst, Massachusetts.