The U.S. government will announce Thursday its intention to keep marijuana exactly where it is on a federal level: a Schedule I substance equal in the eyes of the DEA to heroin and ecstasy. Although advocates have praised the drug's medicinal uses – notably for treating epilepsy and chronic pain – it will remain illegal at the federal level, in opposition to the 25 states and District of Columbia that have passed measures allowing it to be used medically. The Washington Post reports that if the drug were classified as Schedule II, a less regulated category that includes OxyContin, Vicodin and even cocaine, it would show the medical community that it was ready to consider its medicinal value.
The paper reports that the silver lining in today's announcement, however, is that the feds are loosening its belt on where marijuana can be grown for research purposes. The government classified marijuana as a Schedule I substance in 1970 when the Controlled Substances Act came into effect. In recent years, only the University of Mississippi is properly licensed to grow the drug for research purposes. It is unclear, however, how many facilities would now be able to cultivate it.
The New York Times credited the Obama administration with the decision to allow for more studies, noting that the president has said he views pot as no more dangerous than alcohol. Furthermore, the Justice Department under his administration has not interfered with states that have legalized marijuana.
Nevertheless, some members of Congress are not happy with just a foot in the door. "This decision ... is further evidence that the DEA doesn't get it," Representative Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, said according to the Post. "Keeping marijuana at Schedule I continues an outdated, failed approach — leaving patients and marijuana businesses trapped between state and federal laws."
Others in the medical and marijuana sector are dismayed by the recent decision. The Times quoted Dr. Orrin Devinsky of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at NYU's Langone Medical Center who called the DEA's decision to keep marijuana classified as Schedule I "deeply disappointing." There's enough scientific data, he said, to rethink that decision.
"Allowing the DEA to set our national policy on cannabis flies in the face of the very rational, science-based approach that the Obama administration has been promising for eight years, and yet again has failed to deliver," David Bienenstock, head of content for High Times, wrote in a statement. "Does anyone on Earth beside the DEA actually believe that marijuana should be classified alongside heroin in Schedule I as an incredibly dangerous drug with no medicinal value?"
Petitions to change marijuana's status were filed with the DEA in 2009 and 2011. The paper reports that the administration has not commented on when it will address those.
California is set to vote in November on the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which would legalize cannabis for those 21 and older. Watch here.