Good and Bad News from the Obama Administration on Marijuana

Let’s go with the bad news first.

The government refused again Thursday to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, reaffirming its conclusion that the drug’s therapeutic value has not been proved scientifically and defying a growing clamor to legalize it for the treatment of a variety of conditions.

In an announcement in the Federal Register and a letter to petitioners, the Drug Enforcement Administration turned down requests to remove marijuana from “Schedule I,” which classifies it as a drug with “no currently accepted medical use” in the United States and precludes doctors from prescribing it…

“Right now, the science doesn’t support it,” Chuck Rosenberg, acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said in an interview Thursday. Citing a lengthy analysis conducted by the Food and Drug Administration, he said the decision “is tethered to the science.”

One of the reasons why the science doesn’t support the medical use of marijuana is because there has been almost no research done to confirm or discount the kinds of benefits reported by millions of users. That’s where the good news comes in. The biggest barrier to research on those benefits is that there’s only one authorized supply source for legitimate medical studies. That is about to change.

The Obama administration is planning to remove a major roadblock to marijuana research, officials said Wednesday, potentially spurring broad scientific study of a drug that is being used to treat dozens of diseases in states across the nation despite little rigorous evidence of its effectiveness.

The new policy is expected to sharply increase the supply of marijuana available to researchers…

For years, the University of Mississippi has been the only institution authorized to grow the drug for use in medical studies. 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. But soon the Drug Enforcement Administration will allow other universities to apply to grow marijuana, three government officials said…

“It will create a supply of research-grade marijuana that is diverse, but more importantly, it will be competitive and you will have growers motivated to meet the demand of researchers,” said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

It is important to view these two stories together. It is no accident that they were released simultaneously. One can certainly critique the Obama administration for moving too slowly on this. But it is clear that – just as he has on so many issues – this President is methodically working the gears of government in the direction of change.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.