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Should marijuana be legal or at least more accessible? Government's latest move sparks debate
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The government's latest move on marijuana has sparked debate. - photo by Billy Hallowell
Marijuana proponents have had momentum of late, believing the debate over legalization is at a "tipping point," but U.S. officials just dealt a major blow to their quest to seek government reclassification of the drug.

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced that cannabis will remain a Schedule I controlled substance, placing it in the same class as drugs like Ecstasy and heroin, among others.

Explaining the reason for declining recent petitions to reschedule marijuana, the DEA said in a statement that "it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse."

DEA head Chuck Rosenberg sent a letter to petitioners Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-Rhode Island.), Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Washington) and Bryan Krumm, a nurse practitioner in New Mexico, claiming his decision isn't based on "danger," but is based on whether marijuana is "safe and effective medicine."

It's a decision that has sparked a variety of reactions. In a Forbes contributor piece, writer Emily Willingham called the decision "hypocritical" and said it ignores evidence from other organizations that say cannabis can be effective at helping with nausea among other symptoms.

Willingham questioned the decision, saying it reflects an old-school mentality about marijuana that will actually harm the public's trust of the government.

"It certainly reflects a dangerous and hypocritical throwback attitude about cannabis that will only add to distrust of governmental oversight agencies, making their decisions look like political or moral judgments rather than being evidence-based," she wrote.

Others had starkly different reactions, though. Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, an anti-cannabis organization, wrote the following reaction on its Facebook page: "A great victory for common sense."

And Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that works to "prevent another big tobacco," said that he was pleased to see the Obama administration's position on the matter.

"Big Marijuana was counting on President Obama to reschedule or even deschedule marijuana, in order to circumvent the FDA process to turn a quick profit on unregulated products," Sabet said. "But this decision means that medications based on marijuana will have to go through the same rigorous testing process as all of our other medications.

Despite declining to reclassify, the DEA did agree to increase the number of authorized manufacturers that can supply marijuana for researchers. It's a change the agency said is "designed to foster research."

The change allows for a larger variety of marijuana to be available to researchers, as there was previously only one entity the University of Mississippi that was permitted to produce the drug for FDA-aligned research.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote in a recent op-ed that the refusal to change the designation will likely stop viable treatments for people who can truly use them. Gupta called the decision to keep cannabis a Schedule I drug, while allowing additional producers for research, a largely "symbolic" act.

"No matter how much marijuana is available, if access is still difficult, it hardly matters. Imagine a product that is in high demand but kept behind a locked door," he wrote. "In response to the demand for the product, someone makes a baffling decision to make more of it but still never unlocks the door."

Gupta said marijuana is the product and the locker door is its current Schedule I designation.

The DEA's decision not to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II substance comes as pro-cannabis activists have seen increased momentum toward legalizing the drug for recreational and medicinal purposes.

Schedule II drugs, much like Schedule I, are seen as holding the potential for abuse as well as "severe psychological or physical dependence."

Some examples are methadone, cocaine, Adderall and Ritalin. Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, meaning the government sees it as having "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

But while the federal government is essentially doubling down, nine states will have cannabis on their ballots in some form this November. The drug is already legal for recreational use in Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon.

Maine, Arizona, California, Massachusetts and Nevada will decide on recreational legalization this year, while Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Montana will decide on medicinal legalization, The Hill reported.

The DEA's decision also came just after the release of a Barna Group study that found 32 percent of the public believe all drugs should be illegal; an additional 40 percent believe recreational marijuana should be legal.
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