The DEA Won’t Reschedule Cannabis, What Does This Mean For The Future Of Marijuana Legalization?

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will announce on Thursday that it will not reschedule cannabis — or marijuana — effectively confirming that the agency believes pot should remain illegal, the Chicago Tribune is reporting.

The announcement means that cannabis will remain a Schedule I drug, meaning that the government considers it to have no medicinal value, on par with other drugs such as heroin or meth. Some members of Congress had asked for the agency to make cannabis a Schedule II drug, effectively meaning that it could be dispensed with a prescription.

dea reschedule cannabis marijuana
Some states allow doctors to prescribe cannabis as medicine. [Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

The DEA will make one small change when it comes to cannabis: the agency intends to loosen restrictions on federally-approved research of marijuana. As of this writing, only one entity has a federal license to grow cannabis for research: the University of Mississippi. Thursday’s changes will expand the number of places where cannabis can be grown, potentially leading to further federally-approved studies.

The DEA’s upcoming announcement is already drawing mixed reviews.

Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana — an advocacy group that opposes marijuana legalization — praised the decision.

“We’re pleased to see that the Obama Administration… understands the science the way we and almost every single medical association in the country understand it.”

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, who has supported loosening restrictions on cannabis, said that the decision represents another chapter in the failed War on Drugs, according to the Denver Post.

“It’s outrageous that federal policy has blocked science for so long. However, this decision doesn’t go far enough and is further evidence that the DEA doesn’t get it. Keeping marijuana at Schedule I continues an outdated, failed approach — leaving patients and marijuana businesses trapped between state and federal laws.”

dea reschedule cannabis marijuana
Not everyone is pleased with the DEA's refusal to reschedule marijuana. [Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images]

So what does the DEA’s refusal to reschedule mean for marijuana legalization efforts? Not much, as it turns out.

The federal government could still legalize marijuana the traditional way, simply by pushing a new law through Congress and then having it signed by the President, according to NPR News. As of this writing, that appears unlikely to happen.

Instead, what appears more likely is that marijuana will continue to remain illegal at the federal level, while the federal government tolerates the mishmash of state laws that allow the use of marijuana to some degree or another.

As of this writing, 25 states, plus the District of Columbia, allow either medical or recreational use of marijuana. Officially, all of those dispensaries are illegal, and could be shut down, should the DEA choose to. However, in 2013, according to a Washington Post report from the time, the Obama administration directed the DEA and other federal agencies not to “interfere” with state marijuana laws as long as steps were taken to regulate the drug and keep it out of the hands of children.

However, that policy could change with a simple phone call to the DEA, and every “legal” marijuana dispensary in the country would be shut down, and its employees and customers taken to jail.

The future of that policy continuing beyond the Obama administration is unclear. Democrat Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s platform essentially looks to continue the Obama administration policy of allowing states to enact their own cannabis laws, while keeping pot illegal at the federal level, according to an April 20, 2016, Huffington Post report. Republican Donald Trump, meanwhile, has been inconsistent about his beliefs on pot legalization. Libertarian Gary Johnson favors full legalization of marijuana.

Do you believe the DEA made the right decision in refusing to reschedule cannabis?

[Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images]