Three cheers for President Obama for freeing stem cell research from nearly a decade of stagnation. Federal research in the USA was crippled in 2001 when, driven by politic and superstition, George Bush stopped federal funding and restricted access to new cell lines. Now Barack Obama has promised embryonic stem cell findings will not be “distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda.” Millions of Americans with paralysis and other disabilities, or with family members suffering a variety of afflictions, from diabetes to cancer, can go to sleep tonight with a little more hope.
In addition to the decision on stem cells, the president made more sweeping statements. He promised to free scientific research from the tyranny of politics and to bring back “scientific integrity to government decision-making.” Every branch of government and most public institutions suffered during the Bush administration. Karl Rove and his graduates of “colleges” such as Liberty University, were allowed to run roughshod over science at NASA, NOAA and nearly everywhere.
If science is to truly govern policy and decision making in the Obama administration, the next step should be to reschedule cannabis on the Controlled Substance Act. Perhaps no other ruling than classifying (and keeping) cannabis as Schedule I classification more clearly exemplifies putting politics and bureaucracy before science. This tragic error (actually fraud), made 39 years ago, is responsible for much of the wasteful and punitive mess made of the American justice system, now bursting at the seams with non-violent prisoners.
Scientifically, cannabis’ Schedule I status is clearly in error. To “qualify” for this most restrictive and punishing status, drugs so classified must have “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” Obviously, cannabis does have currently accepted medical use in the USA, despite the best efforts of federal bureaucracies to prevent research into its medical value. Additionally, cannabis meets neither of the other two criteria required to classify a drug as Schedule I.
By insisting on a science based classification for cannabis, Barack Obama could strike down the cause one of the great evils of the past few decades, the tragic consequences of twenty million arrests for cannabis. Because of its schedule I status, most state laws were modeled after this most punitive model. Thousands of prisoners languish in jail, millions have had their rights as American citizens crushed because cannabis was misclassified. Now citizens of 13 states have voted to by-pass some of this cruel idiocy with medical exemptions to their laws.
The DEA has resisted numerous attempts and lawsuits by drug policy groups to correct this error. It ignored the findings of its own law judge in 1988 to move cannabis to Schedule II. Strangely, the drug-war bureaucracy did reclassify synthetic THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, down to Schedule III in 1999. Dronabinol, sold as Marinol by Solvay Pharmaceuticals is pure THC. Bizarrely, the DEA uses the availability of Marinol to justify the repression of cannabis. After extensively claiming that there are no medical uses for cannabis, the DEA website claims that “Medical marijuana already exists. Its called Marinol.”
Cannabis could be rescheduled in a number of ways, but the easiest would be for President Obama to instruct the Attorney General to direct the DEA to make the change. To which schedule should cannabis be moved? As the pure THC in Marinol is now Schedule III, this would be a good start. The World Health Organization has recommended that cannabis be down classified to Schedule IV.
Arguably, with its self-serving history of lies and obstruction, the DEA should have no control over the cannabis plant, and it should be removed from the Controlled Substances Act. Science, truth and justice would be far better served by simply ending the legal prohibition of cannabis. So Barack Obama, follow through with your assertion that science, not ideology, should govern policy. Remove the arbitrary, anti-scientific Schedule I demonization of cannabis.