Marijuana remains illegal under federal law in the United States.
The Drug Enforcement Administration on Aug. 11 refused to remove cannabis from its list of Schedule I substances, casting a wrench in the movement to legalize the drug. It remains classified in the same group as heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
The agency published a report in the Federal Register the following day. It noted a lack of scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of marijuana in treating recognized disorders. It also stated that the drug has high potential for abuse, which could cause physical or psychological dependence.
“Right now, the science doesn’t support [the reclassification],” Chuck Rosenberg, acting DEA administrator, told Fox News.
In its conclusion, the report stated that the benefits of pot use have not proven to outweigh the risks. However, the DEA agreed to give researchers and drug companies wider access to cannabis for research purposes. Previously, marijuana used for research was grown only at a facility at the University of Mississippi.
The agency did not find marijuana to be a gateway drug, a substance that leads to the use of more addictive drugs, such as heroin or cocaine. The report referenced multiple studies, none of which connected marijuana use with the consistent use of harder substances.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducted the analysis outlined in the report.
The DEA’s refusal to reschedule the drug has upset many government officials and advocates.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., expressed his concerns over the decision. He called marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug a failed approach. It further divides patients and marijuana businesses trapped between state and federal laws, he said.
“This decision … is further evidence that the DEA doesn’t get it,” Blumenauer told The Washington Post.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., told Fox News that the decision exemplifies disconnect between the Obama administration and the American people. She suggested the DEA’s decision limits people’s right to control their own lives.
The decision also portends a difficult road ahead in the fight to federally legalize the drug, according to Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, an organization that supports the regulation of marijuana sales.
Angell told USA Today that the agency has ignored the medical benefits of the drug.
The marijuana plant contains elements that may help treat numerous illnesses, such as epilepsy. Individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder use the drug to treat their symptoms. The FDA has even approved two medications in pill form containing cannabinoid chemicals.
However, some have applauded the DEA’s decision.
“We’re pleased to see that the Obama Administration … understands the science the way we and almost every single medical association in the country understand it,” said Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-marijuana legalization organization.
Rosenberg noted how the FDA has broad access to scientific research.
“The FDA knows this better than anyone on the planet,” he told The Washington Post.
Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada will consider full marijuana legalization in the November election. Arkansas and Florida will include medical marijuana measures on their ballots. Montana will consider restoring its medical marijuana law.
“This is really a watershed year for marijuana legalization, so I’m hoping that we’ll see some big changes in November,” F. Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, told CNN.
The DEA has not taken action against any marijuana-friendly state. However, the Justice Department has the right to challenge state laws if public health issues develop. The department can also intervene if states do not enforce strict rules on the use and sale of the drug.