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Is the DEA going to take a more lenient approach to marijuana?

At the moment, an astounding 42 states permit residents to use medical marijuana in some capacity, while nearly half the states have passed laws decriminalizing the possession of a small amount of marijuana. Indeed, Illinois enacted just such a measure a few weeks back, such that possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana is no longer punishable by up to six months in jail and up to $1,500 in fines, but rather a fine of $100 to $200.

Given the reality of this current legal landscape and the fact that voters in eight states will decide marijuana-related issues in the November elections, it's understandable how one might think the federal government would be poised to follow suit by softening its draconian stance toward the drug.

As it turns out, the federal government appears to be rather set in its views, as evidenced by a recent announcement by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

What exactly did the DEA announce?

In a notice published in the Federal Register last Friday, the DEA denied a petition submitted by a nurse practitioner from New Mexico, and the governors of Rhode Island and Washington to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.

Specifically, it reaffirmed its commitment to designating marijuana as a Schedule I drug, keeping it alongside drugs like heroin and LSD that are labeled as having a high potential for both abuse and addiction, and no accepted medical use.

What was the DEA's rationale for the decision?

According to the announcement, the rationale for keeping marijuana as a Class I drug has everything to do with the Food and Drug Administration's conclusion that there is a dearth of scientific evidence supporting the safe use of marijuana in any capacity and its still high potential for abuse.

"At this time the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy," reads the announcement.

Did the announcement produce any "wins" for advocates?

The token victory for marijuana advocates came from the DEA indicating that it would be increasing the volume of marijuana available for scientific research by allowing more research facilities to cultivate the drug for scientific research. Currently, only a single facility located at the University of Mississippi is permitted to do this.

Is DEA approval the only way to have marijuana removed from Schedule I?

Outside of the DEA, FDA and a host of other federal agencies giving the green light to reclassifying marijuana, the only other avenue through which this could occur would be for Congress to pass a law and the president to sign it. While attitudes toward marijuana on Capitol Hill are changing, there's little to suggest that any such action would be imminent.

In light of this announcement, understand that the federal law enforcement will continue to crack down on marijuana as they always have. Consequently, if you have been arrested or are under investigation for possible drug-related activities -- manufacture, trafficking, etc. -- it's imperative to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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