The Drug Enforcement Administration flaked on its self-imposed deadline to announce whether to reschedule marijuana, and now it’s not clear when a decision might come.
In April, the DEA told lawmakers in a letter that it was reviewing information on rescheduling and “hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016.” That hope ended when June did, and a DEA spokesman in Washington, D.C., told The Denver Post late last week that there is no update on the administration’s contemplations of rescheduling.Earlier this month, DEA spokesman Russell Baer told the tech news website a NewDomain, “We aren’t holding ourselves to any artificial time frame.” Even after the DEA announces a decision on rescheduling, that decision could still be subject to further review and litigation.
All of this counters a purported scoop touted by the Santa Monica Observer as “groundbreaking,” in which it quoted an unnamed, chardonnay-sipping “DEA lawyer” saying that the administration would move cannabis to Schedule II in August.
On rescheduling marijuana
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Marijuana is currently listed under Schedule I, which means the federal government considers it to have no accepted medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. As part of the most recent petition to reschedule cannabis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reconsidered marijuana’s medicinal value and abuse potential. That department has sent a recommendation to the DEA, which has not disclosed what the recommendation says.
There’s a recent history of the federal government taking longer than promised on marijuana issues. After voters in Colorado and Washington legalized cannabis possession and use in 2012, then-Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government would announce its response, “relatively soon.” The response didn’t come for another eight months.
Whatever the time frame, some federal lawmakers appear to be getting restless.
On June 30 — the last day the DEA had to hold to its previously hoped-for deadline — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York sent the DEA a letter asking, “that you take immediate action to remove ‘cannabis’ and ‘tetrahydrocannabinols’ from Schedule I.” The letter was co-signed by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Boulder.
Among other details, the letter mentions a proposed DEA rule in 2010 that would have placed drugs that mimic the FDA-approved drug dronabinol — a synthetic form of THC marketed as Marinol — into Schedule III. According to the proposed rule, that rescheduling would “include formulations having naturally-derived dronabinol” from cannabis plants.
According to the letter, drug companies that produced competing products objected and the proposed rule was never implemented.
“By proposing that natural generic equivalents be rescheduled to Schedule III, the DEA acknowledged that this substance has a medical use, regardless of whether it is synthetically made or natural,” the letter states.
Rescheduling purified components of the cannabis plant, though, is still a long way from rescheduling marijuana as a whole. And only time — an indeterminate amount of time — will tell whether that happens.