What the DEA’s Failure to Reschedule Marijuana Means for Research

marijuana research
Science & Medicine

Just recently, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would not reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug. However, the agency said it would try to make it easier for scientists and companies to access marijuana for research.

A Little History

The DEA is essentially increasing the types and amounts of marijuana scientists can get their hands on for the purposes of analyzing pot’s potential as a medication. [1]

Though 25 states have legalized medical marijuana, it is still illegal under federal law. However, a bill passed by Congress last year blocks the Justice Department (JD) and DEA from dedicating resources to interfere with state medical marijuana laws or hemp research projects.

legalmedpotUntil now, patients have had to rely mostly on anecdotal evidence of marijuana’s healing properties. Medical growing operations have also been stymied by the fact that for nearly 50 years, only the University of Mississippi has had a contract for producing medical marijuana.

Any scientist seeking to research pot for medical purposes had to obtain a special license through several federal agencies, including the DEA.

Obtaining a special license was especially frustrating for scientists, because they had to prove marijuana was medically beneficial before they could even study it, which made no sense whatsoever. [2]

The agency – which had previously said the demand for research-grade marijuana was “relatively limited” – acknowledged last week that there is, in fact, a heavy demand, without saying it directly.

The DEA wrote:

“DEA has concluded the best way to satisfy the current researcher demand for a variety of strains of marijuana and cannabinoid extracts is to increase the number of federally authorized marijuana growers.” [1]

How Does This Change the Game?

The DEA will invite marijuana growers other than the University of Mississippi to apply for licenses, though the number will be limited and the rules for qualifying will be stringent. That could mean that big growers will be put out of business, as the agency will likely favor manufacturers that have followed its rules and have a proven track record working with controlled substances.

Big agricultural and pharmaceutical companies who have mulled the idea of getting into the marijuana business but wanted to see what direction the DEA took may become growers. The DEA’s new policy is intended to allow companies seeking to market specific strains of pot as prescription drugs to start developing products.

The agency wrote:

“Under the new approach, should the state of scientific knowledge advance in the future such that a marijuana-derived drug is shown to be safe and effective for medical use, pharmaceutical firms will have a legal means of producing such drugs in the United States — independent of the [federal government] contracting process.”

What Does this Mean for Marijuana Users?


If you live in a state where medical marijuana is legal, it doesn’t mean much, except that if you live in a state where it is notoriously hard to get, it’s probably going to stay that way, at least for now.

Had the DEA rescheduled marijuana (the agency still considers it more dangerous than cocaine and meth), it would have made medical marijuana legal nationwide.

The agency hasn’t offered a timeline for when it might reconsider rescheduling marijuana again, so don’t expect major changes anytime soon.

It’s not hopeless, though; Congress could step in and reclassify marijuana itself. The National Conference of State Legislatures is currently demanding it.

But even that could take some time, as not all political parties are supportive of legalization. [2]


[1] Los Angeles Times

[2] Slate