On August 11, 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) formally declined to change its position on the medical or recreational use of marijuana, denying two petitions urging the federal government to change marijuana’s drug classification under the Controlled Substances Act. The petitions, filed in 2009 and 2011, urged the DEA to change marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug—a drug without any accepted medical uses—to a Schedule II drug—a drug with potential medical value but high potential for abuse—or to a drug “in any schedule other than [S]chedule I.” Despite a trend towards decriminalization and legalization on the state level, the DEA’s denial of these petitions indicates the Obama administration has not changed its stance on marijuana.
Twenty-five states currently allow some form of marijuana to be used for medical purposes. Four state—Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado—and the District of Columbia allow the recreational use of marijuana for adults. Nevertheless, the DEA, citing an evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), concluded that marijuana “has no accepted medical use in the United States, and lacks an acceptable level of safety for use even under medical supervision.” The Agency ultimately declined to remove marijuana from Schedule I because of its “high potential for abuse,” lack of “currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” and lack of “accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”
The DEA’s Thursday announcements were not uniformly anti-marijuana. Most notably, the Agency also published a policy statement designed to increase the number of entities registered to grow marijuana to supply researchers in the United States. Currently the only registered facility is at the University of Mississippi, which has been the single grower registered to supply medical marijuana research for nearly 50 years. In its policy statement, the DEA gave its full support to expanding research into the “potential medical utility of marijuana.” Based on its discussions with the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the DEA concluded that “the best way to satisfy the current researcher demand” of marijuana “is to increase the number of federally authorized marijuana growers.” This new policy will allow more people to register with the DEA as marijuana growers.
The DEA on Thursday also signed onto a Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp published by the Department of Agriculture and the FDA. The Agricultural Act of 2014 legalized the growing and cultivating of industrial hemp for research purposes in states where such activities are legal under state law. Growing and cultivation is limited to institutions of higher education or state departments of agriculture for purposes of agricultural or other academic research. The three federal agencies published the Statement of Principles “to inform the public regarding how Federal law applies to activities involving industrial hemp” so that those hoping to participate in industrial hemp agricultural pilot programs can do so in accordance with federal law.