Psychology Professionals VS DEA: The Medical Marijuana Battle

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The American Psychology Association wrote a briefing breaking down why the federal Schedule 1 status of marijuana is illogical. The briefing further expands on the nearly impossible steps psychology professionals and other scientists need to surmount through the DEA to gain access to cannabis for research purposes.

The heart of the issue is not specifically the benefits of medical marijuana or the merits of legalized cannabis in recreational weed states, but simply being able to conduct research on cannabis. If psychology professionals and scientists believe there are merits to researching medical marijuana or recreational marijuana, what sense is there to keep them from expanding our knowledge on the topic?

The U.S.’s largest organization of psychology professionals is urging the federal government to stop making it so hard for researchers to study marijuana.

“Major barriers to research are preventing scientists from pursuing the full range of research that is needed to understand the impacts of recreational and therapeutic use of cannabinoids,” the American Psychological Association (APA) said in a recent advocacy briefing. “Marijuana and its constituent compounds are categorized as Schedule I (having no Food and Drug Administration-approved therapeutic use), and all research conducted with marijuana requires that investigators register with the DEA.”

APA, which represents more than 115,000 scientists, clinicians and educators, pointed out that the process to register to study cannabis “can take more than a year to complete and creates administrative burdens that serve as significant disincentives to pursuing research” and that Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) oversight “involves redundant scientific protocol review.”

The Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule I — the most restrictive category — is supposed to be reserved for drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. Researchers have long complained that marijuana’s classification there creates additional hurdles that don’t exist for studies on other substances.

Heroin and LSD are also in Schedule I alongside cannabis, yet cocaine and methamphetamine are classified in the less-restrictive Schedule II category.

While APA isn’t calling for changes to marijuana’s criminal penalties, its criticism of the roadblocks to marijuana research created by the drug’s current federal classification adds to a growing consensus that something needs to change.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee called on federal agencies last month to prepare a report on the ways Schedule I limits cannabis research.

Also last month, California lawmakers passed a joint resolution calling for federal marijuana rescheduling.

APA, in its advocacy briefing, pointed out that DEA’s role in the marijuana research process creates unnecessary confusion.

“Investigators often report that the guidance they receive is unclear and that DEA inspections, security requirements and variable experiences with state DEA field offices add to the obstacles they face,” the organization said.

The organization, working in a coalition with other groups — including leading prohibitionist outfit Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) — is supporting a new bipartisan Senate bill to remove some of the barriers to cannabis research.

That legislation was filed last month by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and an initial list of four cosponsors. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) added her name to the bill on Monday.

“By creating an exception for marijuana from the current obstacles of Schedule I registration and review procedures, the bill provides a sensible streamlined approach for the review of applications and granting of registrations to conduct research with marijuana,” APA, SAM and other groups including the American Pain Society, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine wrote in their sign-on letter.

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