WHAT’S WITH all the federal weed law action? My head is spinning!
MINE, TOO. Last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced it would not change its dismal tune on cannabis, and that weed would remain a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Then, the Obama administration announced it would ease barriers on marijuana research, despite the Schedule I restriction. Then, a bunch of federal attorneys general got pwned in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding their prosecution of medical marijuana businesses, which is a pretty big deal.
Let’s start with cannabis scheduling, which my colleague Josh Jardine also talks about in his Cannabuzz column this week. A move to Schedule II would have accomplished little, in my opinion. Weed would still be a controlled substance, just less officially dangerous than before. Progressive states like Oregon would still run adventurous programs contrary to federal prohibition. Also, Schedule II contains truly bad drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine. Pot does not belong in that company any more than it does in the even more restrictive Schedule I. If this situation seems strange, please remember the DEA are neither doctors nor scientists. Strange things happen when law enforcement has final say on a medical issue.
Many people worried about a Schedule II designation opening the gates for Big Pharma. Actually, the Obama “research” announcement may do exactly that. For a long time, federally approved weed was grown only at the University of Mississippi. Scientists complained that weed took years to obtain, or was simply unobtainable. Now, weed will be grown on university campuses nationwide (and not just in dorm rooms). Because many schools partner with private companies on drug research, and because the very few documented double-blind weed studies to date have been promising, I expect some serious investment into cannabis research. Guess who has lots of money? Big Pharma.
On the other hand, state attorneys general have no money for most of their weed initiatives. Specifically, they have no dollars and no cents when it comes to federal CSA enforcement as to medical marijuana in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Washington, and, of course, Oregon. That is what the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided last week, to industry applause. The rationale is that Congress has restricted funds for prosecution of medical marijuana program actors. So, any attorney general who prosecutes these actors will get sued and probably lose. Could they still prosecute recreational program actors? Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes. And could Congress change its mind regarding medical enforcement dollars? That’s also a yes.
In all, it takes some serious hustle to keep up with the many changes in federal pot law and policy. Most people I work with are good at keeping their heads down and ignoring the federal noise, paying attention only to the practical stuff, like tax rules. I think this is the right approach.