Federal scientists recommend easing restrictions on marijuana

Federal scientists recommend easing restrictions on marijuana

Marijuana is neither as risky nor as prone to abuse as other tightly controlled substances and has potential medical benefits. It should therefore be removed from the nation’s most restrictive drug class, federal scientists concluded.

The recommendations are contained in a 250-page scientific review submitted to Matthew Zorn, a lawyer from Texas who sued Health and Human Services officials over its publication and posted it online Friday evening. An HHS official confirmed the authenticity of the document.

The files shed light for the first time on the thinking of federal health officials as they consider momentous change. The agencies involved have not commented publicly on their discussions over what amounts to a federal marijuana review.

Since 1970, marijuana has been considered a so-called Schedule I drug, a category that also includes heroin. Schedule I drugs have no medical use and a high potential for abuse, and they carry severe criminal penalties under federal trafficking laws.

The documents show that scientists from the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration make marijuana a Schedule III drug, alongside ketamine and testosterone, which are available on prescription.

The study by federal scientists found that although marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug, “it does not produce serious consequences compared to Schedule I or II drugs.”

Marijuana abuse does cause physical dependence, the analysis notes, and some people develop psychological dependence. “But the likelihood of serious outcomes is low,” the study concludes.

The study also says there is some “scientific support” for therapeutic uses of marijuana, including treatment of anorexia, pain, nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy.

Federal officials cautioned that their analysis was not intended to suggest that they had established the safety and effectiveness of marijuana in a way that would support FDA approval, only that the data supported certain medical uses of marijuana.

Those findings apparently led the FDA to break with decades of precedent last August and advise the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana, a move first reported by Bloomberg News.

This recommendation is currently being reviewed by the DEA, which is expected to formally announce its decision within a few months. The reclassification will be the subject of public comments and debates before being made final.

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Eric D. Eilerman

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