Happening:

Seeing through the smoke


Christopher Gallagher

The DEA in charge of the federal cannabis program? Ha!

Ar 170819719
Alexi Grojean/Special to DGO
Ar 170819719
Alexi Grojean/Special to DGO

It’s a Catch-222222 where the foxen are guarding the henhice (I believe those are the correct plurals): The federal agency responsible for upholding the laws that establish cannabis as a Schedule I substance – “The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse ... no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States ... a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision” – is also the federal agency responsible for overseeing research on said substance. It might just be me, but I see some problems here.

To clarify: the Drug Enforcement Administration, never a friend to cannabis, is tasked with not only the enforcement of a federal statute that slots our favorite natural-growing plant in a position deemed to be more harmful than cocaine, pharmaceutical-grade amphetamines, and most opioid drugs, but also with determining who may use government–approved material for the purpose of scientific testing to determine the effectiveness and legitimacy of said plant as part of our nation’s official pharmacopoeia (where it was listed from 1850-1942).

News flash! Sources report that Joseph Heller is not only rolling, but is actually break dancing in his grave at this very moment!

Since 1970, the DEA has controlled the licensing process for the cultivation of cannabis intended to be used for scientific research. In those 40-plus years, the agency has approved exactly one operation to legally grow – the facility at the University of Mississippi in Oxford operated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. They, and only they, are the plug for any scientist, group, or research organization with a desire to legitimately apply the scientific method to the study of cannabis as medicine. In an interesting historical side note, the American National Institutes for Health funded for over 40 years, beginning in the early 1960s, the work of Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the Israeli scientist who first discovered THC as the active component of marijuana.

This process came under fire following a 2015 report by the Brookings Institute that claimed that the “federal government is stifling medical research in a rapidly transforming area of public policy that has consequences for public health and public safety” and that the current conditions created by the federal government have resulted in a “circular policy trap that hinders scientific research.”

The policy that designates cannabis as a Schedule I substance has been unsuccessfully contested three times since 1972 and a petition by former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chaffee and former Washington governor Christine Gregoire in 2011 is currently in a holding pattern. The DEA seemed to be headed in a sensible direction with its announcement last summer that it would expand the number of certificates to cultivators wishing to produce cannabis for medical research purposes, but they have yet to expand the pool beyond the Oxford facility. The quality of cannabis being produced at the Mississippi farm was called into serious doubt earlier this year by Dr. Sue Sisley, a researcher who followed the DEA and NIDA’s procedures in hopes of obtaining samples suitable for researching the effects of cannabis on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sisley claimed that when her sample arrived, “It didn’t resemble cannabis. It didn’t smell like cannabis.” ’Twould appear that the U.S. government has gotten itself involved in the schwag business: one portion of “weed” the government claimed to contain 13 percent THC (relatively mild by today’s recreational standards) was measured at only eight percent upon arrival, a situation which exposes the negligence of the DEA and NIDA in their stewardship of the federal cannabis program and highlights their ineffectiveness as a source for actual useful medical research and a necessity to change the current system in favor of one with science, not politics, as its central focus.

Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at chrstphrgallagher@gmail.com.