There had been several months of speculation that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency was ready to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance. Now that speculation is going to have to linger on until at least 2017.
An unnamed senior executive at the DEA has confirmed that marijuana reclassification will not occur in the 2016 calendar year. The confirmation doesn’t eliminate the possibility that the DEA will eventually reclassify marijuana, but it does mean that there will be a definite delay as to when an official decision will be made.
Why the Reluctance to Reclassify?
The reluctance of the DEA to reclassify marijuana doesn’t come as a total surprise. In an article written for Business Insider, Christopher Woody explains how officials within the DEA are being “dragged kicking and screaming” into a new sociopolitical climate in which marijuana reform is supported by the public, medical associations, and some politicians. The potential reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance will not make the drug available for widespread recreational use; it will simply allow for more cultivation and research to explore the medical value of marijuana. Still, as Woody points out, there are many high ranking officials within the DEA, including active chief Chuck Rosenberg, who adamantly deny that there are any medicinal benefits to marijuana.
The DEA will eventually have to make a decision on whether or not marijuana is reclassified. As Kate O’Keeffe explains in the Wall Street Journal, the DEA is required by law to make a decision on reclassification. For its part, the DEA doesn’t actually determine if a drug has medicinal benefits; rather, that responsibility belongs to the Food and Drug Administration. The DEA’s role involves making a determination of whether or not a substance has the potential for abuse. As things stand now, marijuana is classified in the same category as heroin, LSD, cocaine and ecstasy. Political support for reclassification has been limited to a handful of senators from the Democratic Party.
The growing public and political support for marijuana legalization will likely lead to more changes in the way that marijuana is regulated. With several states legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, it’s hard to imagine that the federal government will be able to maintain its hardline stance against marijuana for much longer. Changes are definitely on the horizon.