Feds just don't understand.
On Thursday, the Drug Enforcement Administration crushed the hopes and dreams of marijuana enthusiasts, advocates, and researchers everywhere when it announced that weed would remain classified as a Schedule 1 drug.
For those of you who don't know, Schedule 1 drugs are considered the worst of the worst: Drugs that have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit whatsoever. The category includes heroin and MDMA. And for some reason, marijuana. Even cocaine and meth are considered Schedule 2 drugs—so WTF, DEA?
This announcement is frustrating for several reasons. For one, it's completely out of touch with the American public and what it wants. According to a new Gallup poll, 1 in 8 Americans now say they smoke pot regularly, a rate that has nearly doubled since 2013. Not only that, 43% say they've tried weed at least once. And 61% of Americans support legalization of some kind. Which is why 25 states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws legalizing marijuana in some form—with four states legalizing it for both medical and recreational use.
In November voters in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada will decide whether to legalize weed for recreational use in their states, too.
And yet, despite this nationwide shift toward weed acceptance, the DEA has decided to keep marijuana illegal—which pits state laws in direct opposition to federal law, disregards research on medical marijuana, and blatantly ignores the will of the American people. But why?
The crux of this decision comes down to one question: Does marijuana have medical benefits? According to the DEA, it does not. As the group stated in its announcement, "Marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States … 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."
Of course, numerous studies do confirm medical marijuana's benefits, but this research isn't up to the DEA's standards. Why? Because it's super freaking hard to study marijuana since it's a Schedule 1 drug.
Indeed, only one site in the U.S. is authorized to grow marijuana for research purposes, and that's the University of Mississippi. This makes marijuana's supply—from quantity to strain type—quite scarce for other researchers. "This restriction has so limited the supply of marijuana federally approved for research purposes that scientists said it could often take years to obtain it and in some cases it was impossible to get," The New York Times reported on Thursday.
Not only that, when researchers do want to undertake a marijuana study, they have to go through a rigorous, time-consuming process of getting their project approved by agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and yes, the DEA.
But here's the most frustrating part: It's much easier to get approval for your study if you're researching the negative aspects of marijuana—not so much the benefits. For example, $1.1 billion of the $1.4 billion that the National Institutes of Health spent on marijuana research from 2008 to 2014 went to study abuse and addiction, while a measly $297 million was spent on medical research and effects on the brain.
“If you were a researcher who thought a product with high THC would help someone with a painful cancer, you were out of luck," John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told the Times. "You couldn’t access high THC marijuana in the same way you could buy it in a market in Colorado."
So the DEA is basically perpetuating a big catch-22—claiming there's not enough research on the medical benefits of weed while tying the hands of researchers who want to study the medical benefits—by keeping it a Schedule 1 drug.
So is there any good news? Yes and no.
No, because keeping marijuana a Schedule 1 drug is ridiculous and means, even if you live in a weed-friendly state, you're still violating the laws of the federal government if you use cannabis in any way. Which is annoying.
It also means if you don't live in a weed-friendly region, the DEA's decision may prevent your state from becoming weed-friendly for medical or recreational purposes in the future since it gives anti-weed advocates plenty of ammo—which sucks. Especially if you're suffering from a medical condition such as cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis, whose symptoms and side effects are receptive to medical marijuana. The feds don't appear to care that a relatively harmless drug can have major medical benefits, choosing instead to prolong the era of Reefer Madness.
The small silver lining is that the DEA, while claiming marijuana has no medical benefits, did say it would loosen up some of its restrictions on research. One example is, by allowing additional sites to grow marijuana, more researchers can gain access to the drug and more strains can be studied.
For the indefinite future, however, weed will continue to be classified in the same league as heroin. To which I say, again: Feds just don't understand.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.