Top federal health officials recently told the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) whether marijuana should be reclassified under federal law, a document obtained by Marijuana.com reveals, but it is not yet known what that recommendation entails.
“DEA recently received the [Department of Health and Human Services] scientific and medical evaluations as well as a scheduling recommendation that HHS prepared in response to” two petitions to reclassify cannabis under federal law, Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik wrote in a September 30 letter to Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). “DEA is currently reviewing these documents and all other relevant data to make a scheduling determination in accordance with the [Controlled Substances Act].”
Cannabis is currently classified in the Controlled Substances Act under Schedule I, a category that’s supposed to be reserved for drugs with no medical value.
One of the two pending rescheduling petitions currently under review was filed in 2011 by then-Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington State and then-Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Both states have medical marijuana laws. It isn’t immediately clear what other petition Kadzik referred to in the letter to Blumenauer.
HHS tasks its Food and Drug Administration component with conducting the medical and scientific review needed for rescheduling recommendations. It isn’t known how long it will take DEA to review the HHS/FDA proposal and issue its own ruling.
DEA’s most recent rejection of a cannabis rescheduling petition, in June 2011, came four and a half years after it received FDA’s input in December 2006. Previous to that, DEA’s rejection in March 2001 of a separate rescheduling petition came just two months after getting a recommendation from FDA. In both cases the health officials suggested keeping marijuana in Schedule I, which DEA agreed with.
“Upon completion of the determination, DEA will notify the petitioners of its decision and plans to publish the full analyses of both HHS and DEA in the Federal Register,” Kadzik said of the currently ongoing review.
According to federal law, HHS must consider several factors in making a recommendation to DEA, including scientific evidence of a drugs’s pharmacological effect, risk to public health, psychic or physiological dependence liability and actual or relative potential for abuse.
The previously unreleased letter to Blumenauer was referenced in a separate letter that a group of eight U.S senators sent this week pressing DEA and other federal agencies to remove roadblocks to research on marijuana’s medical benefits.
Kadzik’s revelation to Blumenauer that DEA had received a rescheduling recommendation from FDA as of September 30, the senators wrote, is in contrast to what officials for DEA, HHS and the Office of National Drug Control Policy reportedly told a group of Capitol Hill staffers at a briefing on November 13. At the meeting, according to the senators, staff pressed for a timeline on processing the rescheduling petition but were told by the the federal agency officials that they “could not provide the requested information.”
That was more than six weeks after Kadzik told Blumenauer that the FDA had already made its recommendation to DEA.
“At best, this was a remarkably embarrassing mistake,” Mike Liszewski of Americans for Safe Access told Marijuana.com in an interview. Pointing to recent instances of the Justice Department operating in bad faith, such as offering differing interpretations of a Congressional medical marijuana enforcement rider before and after it was enacted, he added, “this latest revelation is especially concerning. We hope the agencies will become more transparent and give medical marijuana patients the respect they deserve.”
Read Kadzik’s full letter to Blumenauer below.