Marijuana policy advocates were dealt a disappointing blow by the Drug Enforcement Administrationthis month when the enforcement agency decided to keep marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. The decision conflicts with advocates' claims of marijuana's health benefits. Does this mean that marijuana medical use will remain limited?
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Analyst Kristine Harjes is joined by contributor Todd Campbell in this clip of The Motley Fool's Industry Focus: Healthcare podcastto dig into the decision and what it may mean for marijuana research and use.
A full transcript follows the video.
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This podcast was recorded on Aug. 17, 2016.
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Kristine Harjes: Wewant to talk a little bit about marijuana and itsfederal scheduling, meaning how the federal government classifies the drug. Last Thursday,there was some news that came out that the Drug Enforcement Agency [sic] will keep marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, meaning that there are no accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse. This comes on the heels of a push to get marijuana rescheduled to Schedule 2, which would mean thatit still has a high potential for abuse, but it does have accepted medical uses. In the press release, the DEA cited that the drug's chemistryis not necessarily known,it's not reproducible,there aren't enough studies out there on its safety, there aren't enoughstudies proving its efficacy, and essentially, theevidence just isn't there to support reclassification. What do you think, Todd?
Todd Campbell:This issomething that you and I have talked about a lot. People who listen to our showunderstand the value of highly controlled scientific trials. I mean, the ability to provebeyond a shadow of a doubt that the reason someone is getting animproved outcome is because of whatever they're taking. Absent that kind of proof -- and, unfortunately, the FDA'sreview of the information that they have available to it,was unable to find that proof -- absent that proof, the HHS could not go to the DEA and say, "Yeah, we think there's truly a medicalbenefit associated with takingmarijuana that's scientifically provable."
That really put the DEA in a box, because marijuana is listed in theSingle Convention on Narcotic Drugs, an international treaty. It has to be either Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 and the only difference between Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 is having a medical use component of it. So, the DEA kept it at Schedule 1, and unfortunately, that dealsa little bit of a blow to marijuana policy advocates who really have been doing a very good job of moving forwardas far as decriminalizing marijuana and increasing the ability to use it nationwide.
Harjes:And I'd like to point out a bit of acatch-22going on here, which actually wasmade clear to me by one of our other Motley Fool healthcare writers, Cory Renauer. He noted that the DEA based this decision ona recommendation from the HHS, which based itsrecommendation on an FDA review that cited the lack of available evidence to determine that marijuana, in its natural state, has an accepted medical use. And this lack of available evidence cited by the FDA is a direct result of marijuana's Schedule 1 status, which is enforced by the DEA.
It's like, you have this cycle here where, until you can getbetter evidence on marijuana, you can't loosen the restrictions on it, butit's really, really hard to study it, particularly in its natural form,because of its scheduling.
Campbell:Right. It's Schedule 1, which means that you have to get it from one grow facility, a grow facility down,I think it's in Mississippi. You have to comply withall sorts of regulations on the storage of it, you get recording of it, how you use it, everything -- all of these road blocks that are put upagainst the scientific research into its benefit. That means that nonprofit researchers -- those atuniversities and such -- areless likely to embrace that kind of research than, say, for-profit companies that maybe have deeper pockets and access to capital via stock offerings and the like.
Harjes:Right. Andinteresting like, they are actually expanding the number of DEA-registeredmarijuana manufacturers. Previously, there was just one, as you had mentioned. But now, hopefully,there should be a couple more coming on board. That is a slight relaxing of the restrictions, but...
Campbell:Right. It's like the DEA said, "Look,we can't give you what you want,but maybe we can meet you halfway,and if we can provide more supply, then maybe that tears down or breaks downsome of these barriers to research." Although,looking around and talking to people who are doing the research,it doesn't necessarily seem to be that the supply is the biggest issue that's preventing that. So,I don't know, we'll see how that plays out.
We also haveanotherentirely different dynamic at play here, becauseafter the announcement came out of the DEA,spokespeople for Hillary Clinton -- who, as everyone knows, is running for president --have come out and said that if she's elected, she would make it a Schedule 2 drug. So, thatopens a whole other can of worms.
Harjes:Right. Clinton has also referred to thelaboratories of democracy states rights argument, saying basically, "We should let states figure it out for themselves, the states where it's currently legal. And after we have a little bit more evidence onwhat actually happens within a state when you have eithermedical, recreational or both, legalized, then, where do we go from there?"
Campbell:Right. And the other thing the FDA did on this --I don't want to forget about this -- the other thing the DEA did is,when they were talking to the FDA, the FDA came out and said, "OK, well,we can't show you that there's proof that marijuana is helpful, but what we can do isprovide a little bit of guidance toward researchers and how they should design their future studies." And they offered up some different insight, including making sure thatany studies that get down from hereare not dosing marijuana via smoking, they're using either tinctures orsome other way of being able to evaluate it. It seems like the ball moved slightly forward, but you certainly didn't get a first down.
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