On December 23, the DEA released this statement:

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently eased some of the regulatory requirements imposed by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) for those who are conducting FDA-approved clinical trials on cannabidiol (CBD), an extract of the marijuana plant.  These modifications will streamline the research process regarding CBD’s possible medicinal value and help foster ongoing scientific studies.  The DEA notified affected researchers by letter of the changes, which take effect immediately.

The DEA has made a very small favorable move, but that's not nearly enough.
The DEA has made a very small move to liberalize cannabis research, but that’s not nearly enough.

Federal law requires researchers conducting CBD-based clinical trials obtain a DEA research registration, which in turn permits possessing CBD for a specific research protocol. Previously, researchers who want to expand the scope of their studies or to increase the amount of CBD would have to submit a written request to the DEA. This process caused delays while the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed the applications. The DEA’s new policy will allow registered CBD clinical researchers to modify their protocol and continue research without submitting the written application. In other words, it removes a step from the approval process.

CBD is the second most prevalent cannabinoid found in cannabis, after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Unlike THC, CBD does not have strong psychoactive effects. Among other things, CBD has shown real promise in treating seizures in children with epilepsy.

This change in policy highlights the DEA’s inconsistent approach to medical marijuana. Under the CSA, various drugs are classified by their potential harm to society. The most dangerous drugs are placed in Schedule I, meaning they have no accepted medical use. The DEA classifies marijuana under Schedule I. However, this new policy seems to undercut their belief that the marijuana has no medical use because the DEA’s press release stated that “[b]ecause CBD contains less than 1 percent THC and has shown some potential medicinal value, there is great interest in studying it for medical applications.” It appears the DEA is admitting that CBD shows promise, but is not taking the next logical step in rescheduling marijuana so that it can be freely researched.

This new policy also flies in the face of recent comments made by DEA Director Chuck Rosenberg, including his calling the idea of medical marijuana “a joke.” Thousands of Americans who use cannabis to treat the symptoms of chemotherapy, AIDS and other ailments were not amused by Chuck’s statement and signed a petition asking for his removal. Perhaps this is an attempt by Rosenberg to diffuse negative reaction from his ridiculous comments.

The bottom line is that the DEA’s change in policy is a positive one, but it fails to address the bigger problems researchers face with marijuana. Many Americans use marijuana medicinally and the DEA needs to stop burying its head in the sand and acknowledge that this research is not a “joke.” Until that happens these types of “gestures” fall short. The DEA has created major road blocks in studying and researching cannabis. This is a small and welcome step forward which will make it easier to study CBD, but perhaps it is time to make it easier to study the entire plant, THC included.

Until federal prohibition ends, researchers will continue to face significant problems when it comes to marijuana. Why not just let the science decide? Why is the DEA so afraid of cannabis research?