Despite medical marijuana’s legality in most states and the District of Columbia, the Obama administration announced Aug. 11 the drug will continue to be classified by the federal government as having “no currently approved medical use” and “a high potential for abuse.”
Kim Jones, a pharmacy professor at Union University, told Baptist Press (BP) the decision may appear “somewhat surprising” in light of American culture’s increasing acceptance of marijuana use, but it is “not surprising” from a scientific standpoint.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) “made its decision because there still has yet to be any firm, scientific evidence validating the therapeutic effectiveness of marijuana,” said Jones, associate professor of pharmacy practice. Reported medical successes of the drug are anecdotal and do not involve “data founded and duplicated in a large, randomized, controlled trial.”
The DEA’s announcement came in response to a 2011 petition by then-Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and then-Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, both Democrats, to have marijuana removed from the government’s list of “Schedule I” drugs – which have no accepted medical use, are not accepted by experts as safe for use under medical supervision and have a high potential for abuse.
Denial of the petition was first announced in a July letter to the current governors of Rhode Island and Washington, Gina Raimondo and Jay Inslee respectively. The letter was published via a DEA tweet Aug. 11, the same day a follow-up letter explained the decision at greater length to Raimondo, Inslee and New Mexico nurse practitioner Bryan Krumm, who filed a similar petition in 2009.
“If the scientific understanding about marijuana changes – and it could change – then the decision could change,” DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg wrote. “But we will remain tethered to science, as we must, and as the statute demands. It certainly would be odd to rely on science when it suits us and ignore it otherwise.”
Rosenberg’s letter expressed DEA support for “legitimate research regarding marijuana and its constituent parts,” noting that “some trials have shown promise” for treating childhood epilepsy.
A DEA news release also published Aug. 11 announced plans to increase the number of marijuana manufacturers approved to supply researchers with the drug and introduced a “statement of principles” concerning “industrial hemp” for use in research and hemp products. At present, the only authorized producer of marijuana for research is the University of Mississippi.
Jones, of Union, expressed hesitancy regarding medical marijuana, even if large-scale, controlled studies discover a legitimate use. It remains “a gateway drug to [the] use of other illicit substances,” she said, and “would need to be controlled much like our prescription products.”
Stephen Carter, chair of the 2015 State Convention of Baptists in Ohio resolutions committee, which proposed a resolution “on marijuana use,” told BP he is glad the DEA didn’t reclassify marijuana as having legitimate medical uses.
Ohio Baptists adopted the resolution the day after voters in the Buckeye State rejected a state constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana by a 64-36 margin. The resolution opposed legalization, promoted “biblically based addiction recovery ministries” and pledged evangelism “to those trapped in bondage.”
In June, Gov. Josh Kasich signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana in Ohio.
Carter, pastor of North Eaton Baptist Church in Grafton, Ohio, said he is “always skeptical of the medical use of marijuana” and advocated a “cautious approach” to marijuana research.
“If there’s a legitimate medical reason for it, together with a legitimate medical administration, I could see some possibilities for it,” Carter said. “But where it stands right now … medical use of it for the majority of people” seems to be “a backdoor way of legalizing it” for recreational purposes.
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, praised the DEA.
“The DEA made a good call today. Marijuana is a destructive drug. It is implicated in such things as learning and memory problems, health problems, crime and family instability. We need less access to marijuana in this country, not more,” Duke said in written comments to BP.
“The drug is readily available, as it is. It doesn’t take much effort to imagine what it would be like if the federal government relaxed its policies on it. Marijuana is robbing millions of people, especially teenagers, of their futures. We have a moral obligation to them and this nation to ensure that we do not unleash marijuana’s destructive power. There is nothing recreational about marijuana. In the end, it also bites like a snake,” Duke said.
In all, the DEA released nearly 400 pages of marijuana-related materials in conjunction with its announcement, including citations of more than 200 published studies.
The materials noted there are currently two FDA-approved drugs that contain a chemical found in marijuana. They are used to treat nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and loss of appetite in AIDS patients.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)