DEA marijuana classification puts drug out of reach of those in need
With medical marijuana at her disposal, metro Atlanta’s Jennifer Conforti’s daughter no longer had to be tied down as she screamed, kicked and bit herself during her eruptions of rage as a result of autism. She says the videos of her daughter’s outbursts are harrowing to witness, much less be there.
With medical marijuana, another family said they saw the day coming where they no longer had to travel outside the state of Georgia and “smuggle” back into the state the adequate medicine to treat their daughter’s uncontrollable seizures. Sickle-cell anemia, a condition so painful that it regularly requires hospitalization, was offset by the medicinal TLC.
Now, these families just feel like they’ve been kicked in the gut by the federal government. The road to decriminalization of marijuana has hit a major snag with the fed’s latest — and surprising — announcement. The Drug Enforcement Administration recently declared marijuana a “dangerous drug,” and, to the dismay and horror of parents across the country, put cannabis in the same category as cocaine, heroin and LSD.
The federal government’s new report says marijuana has “no accepted medical use in the United States.” The DEA report said the decision was based on a scientific and medical evaluation of marijuana conducted by the Food and Drug Administration at their request.
Basically the feds said the risks do not outweigh the benefits.
But the results of local research contradict the DEA’s claims. The Medical College of Georgia stated it was encouraged by early results in Georgia that involved a specific drug, the cannabis-derived oil Epidiolex. Of the 30 patients who took the drug for at least four months, 63 percent saw a reduction in severe seizures, and six patients, roughly 20 percent of the sample pool, appeared to be seizure-free.
The federal government, however, is not moved. Worst of all for cannabis advocates, it doesn’t look like the DEA is going to budge anytime in the near future.
“If the scientific understanding about marijuana changes — and it could change — then the decision could change,” said DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg. “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 said designating marijuana a Schedule 1 drug does not necessarily mean it is as dangerous as other drugs. “It is best not to think of drug scheduling as an escalating ‘danger’ scale — rather, specific statutory criteria (based on medical and scientific evidence) determine into which schedule a substance is placed,” Rosenberg added.
While the DEA won’t reclassify marijuana, they did announce plans to make it easier for researchers to study pot’s possible medical benefits by expanding the number of entities that can legally grow marijuana for research purposes.
Currently only researchers at the University of Mississippi are allowed to grow marijuana, as part of a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The national quagmire on marijuana is that the Obama administration’s stance pits state’s rights and laws versus federal statutes. Twenty-six states currently allow the use of medical marijuana with in-state distribution, including versions of the drug grown or made there. Sixteen others, including Georgia, allow its use on more restrictive terms. But they cannot grow it or obtain it in the state. That means, families are forced to seek sufficient supply outside the state, causing hardships to the families who say they desperately need it.
“There are still logistical and financial hardships even for the folks that are properly registered with the state,” said state Rep. Allen Peak, R-Macon, the main sponsor of Georgia’s medical marijuana law. Even though he was able to get some leeway, Peak doesn’t have enough allies to implement in-state cultivation and to expand the number of conditions allowed for treatment. Efforts to do both were struck down in the Georgia state legislature and are opposed by Gov. Nathan Deal.
This is where it gets tricky for families. They have to figure out how to get the drugs. But federal law prohibits the interstate transport of marijuana under any circumstances, which is why advocates are urging the reclassification of marijuana.
“We continue to hold the position that the federal government should seriously consider the scheduling of marijuana,” said Chuck Spahos, the executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.
The Obama administration’s position on marijuana softened in 2013 when the Justice Department notified Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize pot for recreational use and sales, that it would not interfere with state laws so long as the drug was kept out of the hands of children, off the black market and away from federal property.
But the DEA’s position is seen as a major setback for Georgia families with children stricken with seizures, autism, sickle-cell and other medical maladies.
What diseases or disorders are covered by Georgia’s medical marijuana law?
- Cancer, when the disease has reached end-stage or the treatment produces related wasting illness, recalcitrant nausea and vomiting
- Seizure disorders related to diagnosis of epilepsy or trauma-related head injuries
- Severe or end-stage amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease)
- Severe or end-stage multiple sclerosis
- Severe or end-stage Parkinson’s disease
- Severe or end-stage sickle cell anemia
- Crohn’s disease
- Mitochondrial disease
“Low THC Oil Registry” cards cost $25, which is the standard fee for obtaining a vital record in Georgia. Cards are valid for two years from the date issued. After that time, cardholders will need to again consult with a physician about their continued eligibility and request that they update and confirm registry information.
At least 25 states and the District of Columbia have approved the use of medical marijuana for conditions ranging from epilepsy to arthritis. But the federal government’s new report continues to leave patients trapped between state and national laws.