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Report Unveils How DEA Blocked Research and Reclassification of Marijuana, MDMA, Others
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) on June 10 released their new report, “The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding and Rejecting Science”. The report documents a decades-long pattern of systematically obstructing medical research and ignoring scientific evidence.
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In a series of historic votes late last month, the U.S. House approved a bipartisan measure prohibiting the DEA from undermining state medical marijuana laws, as well as two amendments prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp laws. The votes were seen as a rebuke to the DEA and DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, who is under increasing pressure to step down.
“The DEA is a police and propaganda agency,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It makes no sense for it to be in charge of federal decisions involving scientific research and medical practice, especially when its successive directors have systematically abused their discretionary powers in this area. The time is long past for a top-to-bottom review of this rogue agency.”
Despite substantial evidence confirming marijuana’s medical benefits, the DEA has opposed efforts to reform federal policy to acknowledge marijuana’s medical value and made it very difficult for researchers to obtain marijuana to study its medical efficacy.
The federal government maintains a monopoly on the production of only one drug: marijuana. Researchers who want to conduct clinical trials of its therapeutic value are typically frustrated by bureaucratic obstacles. In 2007, a DEA Administrative Law Judge ruled that this decades-long monopoly was harmful to the public interest and should end – but the head of the DEA, Michele Leonhart, rejected the ruling. State legislators and voters have taken matters into their own hands by making marijuana available for medical use at the state level. Almost half of all Americans now live in a state where medical marijuana is legal to one degree or another.
“The DEA has obstructed research into the medical use of marijuana for over 40 years and in the process has caused immeasurable suffering that would otherwise have been treated by low-cost, low-risk generic marijuana,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of MAPS. “The DEA’s obstruction of the FDA approval process for marijuana has – to the DEA’s dismay – unintentionally catalyzed state-level medical marijuana reforms.”
The report’s case studies reveal a number of DEA practices that maintain the existing, scientifically unsupported drug scheduling system and obstruct research that might alter current drug schedules:
Failing to act in a timely fashion
The DEA took 16 years to issue a final decision rejecting the first marijuana rescheduling petition, five years for the second, and nine years for the third. In two of the three cases, it took multiple lawsuits to force the agency to act.
Overruling DEA Administrative Law Judges
DEA Administrative Law Judges are government officials charged with evaluating the evidence on rescheduling and other matters before the DEA and making recommendations based on that evidence to the DEA Administrator. In the cases of the scheduling of marijuana and MDMA, the judges determined that that they should be placed in Schedule II instead of Schedule I, where they would be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as prescription medicines, but still retain criminal sanctions for non-medical uses. However, agency administrators overruled their Administrative Law Judges’ recommendations, substituting their own judgments and ignoring scientific evidence. The current DEA head, Michelle Leonhart, also rejected a DEA Administrative Law Judge ruling that the DEA end its unique and unjustifiable monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana available for federally approved research.
Creating a regulatory Catch-22
The DEA has argued for decades that there is not sufficient evidence to support rescheduling marijuana or the medical use of marijuana. At the same time, it has – along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse – acted in a manner intended to systematically impede scientific research. Through the use of such tactics, the DEA has repeatedly and consistently demonstrated that it is more interested in maintaining existing drug laws than in making important drug control decisions based on scientific evidence.
The report also examines the DEA’s speed in moving to ban MDMA, synthetic cannabinoids, and synthetic stimulants. In contrast to the DEA’s failure to act in a timely fashion when confronted with evidence for scheduling certain drugs less severely, the agency has shown repeatedly that it can move quickly when it wants to prohibit a substance.
The report recommends:
That responsibility for determining drug classifications and other health determinations should be completely removed from the DEA and transferred to another agency, perhaps even a non-governmental entity such as the National Academy of Sciences.
That the DEA should be ordered to end the federal government’s unjustifiable monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana available for federally approved research. No other drug is available from only a single governmental source for research purposes.
June 10, 2014