Friday, May 24

Federal scientists recommend easing restrictions on marijuana

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

The recommendations are contained in a 250-page scientific review provided to Matthew Zorn, a Texas lawyer who sued Health and Human Services officials for his release and posted it online Friday evening. An HHS official confirmed the document’s authenticity.

The documents shed light for the first time on the thinking of federal health officials as they ponder a sea change. The agencies involved have not commented publicly on their discussions about what amounts to a marijuana reconsideration at the federal level.

Since 1970, marijuana has been considered a so-called Schedule I drug, a category to which heroin also belongs. Schedule I drugs have no medical use and have a high potential for abuse and carry serious criminal penalties under federal traffic laws.

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

The analysis by federal scientists found that although marijuana is the most frequently abused illicit drug, it “does not produce severe outcomes compared to Schedule I or II drugs.”

Marijuana abuse leads to physical dependence, the analysis noted, and some people develop psychological dependence. “But the likelihood of serious outcomes is low,” the review concludes.

The review also states that there is some “scientific support” for the therapeutic uses of marijuana, including the 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 some medical uses of marijuana.

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

That recommendation is under review by the DEA, which is expected to formally announce its decision within a few months. The reclassification will be subject to public comment and debate before being made final.