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The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding and Rejecting Science

June 10, 2014  |  For four decades, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has systematically obstructed medical research and rejected scientific evidence. It’s increasingly clear that entrusting decisions involving medical science to the DEA is akin to leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse. And what’s most striking is how little scrutiny the DEA has faced from Congress or other federal overseers.

Tomorrow, members of Congress, scientific experts, medical marijuana patients and others will join us in a  teleconference that will accompany the release of a new report co-published by  MAPS and the  Drug Policy Alliance called “ The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding and Rejecting Science.”

Since the days of the Nixon administration, federal officials have described the drug classification process as based on science and evidence. But the DEA’s actions strongly indicate that their decision-making has everything to do with politics and little to do with science.

Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970, the DEA’s powers include not just the ability to enforce federal drug laws, but the authority to schedule drugs and license facilities for the production and use of scheduled drugs in federally-approved research. The DEA is statutorily required to make its determinations based on scientific data. There is no indication in the legislative record that the CSA intended for drug classification to be a one-way ratchet, with only tighter controls ever envisioned. Nor was there any indication that the DEA’s decision-making process was intended to be an entirely political process.

Despite substantial evidence confirming marijuana’s medical benefits, the DEA has opposed any efforts to reform federal policy to reflect this.  At the same time, the DEA has essentially blocked the FDA drug development route for marijuana by making it extremely difficult for researchers to obtain marijuana for clinical trials.

The federal government maintains a monopoly on the production of only one drug: marijuana. Researchers who want to conduct clinical trials of its therapeutic value are typically frustrated by bureaucratic obstacles. In 2007, a DEA Administrative Law Judge ruled that this decades-long monopoly was harmful to the public interest and should end – but the head of the DEA, Michele Leonhart, rejected the ruling.

The DEA’s decades of obstructing medical marijuana research has caused immeasurable suffering that would otherwise have been treated by low-cost, low-risk generic marijuana.

The only silver lining is that the DEA’s obstruction of the FDA approval route has catalyzed state-level marijuana reforms. In a series of historic votes late last month, the U.S. House approved a bipartisan measure prohibiting the DEA from undermining state medical marijuana laws, as well as two amendments prohibiting the DEA from interfering with state hemp laws. The votes were seen as a rebuke to the DEA and DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, who is under increasing pressure to step down.

Our report’s case studies reveal a number of DEA practices that maintain the existing, scientifically-unsupported drug scheduling system and obstruct research that might alter current drug schedules:

By Rick Doblin and Ethan Nadelmann
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