Kristin Brinckerhoff ponders the selection at 3D Cannabis Center, a Denver marijuana shop, on Jan. 2, 2014. (Denver Post file)

Why the DEA’s rescheduling decision is bad news for small marijuana businesses

The U.S. government Thursday reaffirmed that if you use or sell marijuana you’re breaking federal law. Still.

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced that marijuana would continue to be classified as a Schedule 1 drug – highly addictive and without medical benefit. The agency will allow more production of the drug for research purposes. But for now…it’s against the law.

USA Today reports that: “In reaching its conclusion, the DEA said a Health and Human Services evaluation shows marijuana has no ‘currently accepted medical use” because ‘the drug’s chemistry is not known and reproducible; there are no adequate safety studies; there are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts; and the scientific evidence is not widely available.’ ”

The DEA also feels that marijuana has a “high potential” for abuse and can result in psychological dependence, the newspaper reported.

“There is no evidence that there is a consensus among qualified experts that marijuana is safe and effective for use in treating a specific, recognized disorder,” the agency said.

This is not good news for small businesses in the marijuana industry. Currently four states (Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington) have made the drug legal for recreational use and 24 more states say that it can be used for medical purposes. Eight states will consider various forms of marijuana legalization in ballots this November. In 2015, marijuana sales exceeded $5 billion according to this report by the cannibis research group Arcview Market Research. Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been contributed to state coffers from added tax revenues. Hundreds of start-up pot-shops, dispensaries, manufacturers, farmers, packagers and other service providers have been created over the past few years, generating thousands of new jobs.

But those businesses continue to operate under a big risk. Many national banks refuse to take their money for fear that they will be violating federal banking regulations. Marijuana business owners like this one in Colorado have had a tough time just keeping a bank account for their business (his 70-person company’s account back in March was with a credit union and only covered basic services such as direct deposit sending tax payments to the state.)

Right now the Obama administration is “looking the other way.” But the DEA is not. Depending on who’s occupying the White House and Congress in 2017 there’s always a risk that the government may take a harder line against this industry, regardless of what state laws have passed.

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