The DEA Is Ready For Pharmaceutical Pot — Are You?

Recently on the NORML blog and in NORML’s weekly media release we informed you of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administrations’ intentions to reclassify plant-derived THC from a schedule I to schedule III controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Today on the website I write about the forces motivating this proposed change and what it means (and what doesn’t mean) for the medical cannabis consumer. I also analyze who stands to gain (and who stands to lose) from reclassification.
You can read an excerpt of my story, “If the Feds Get Their Way, Big Pharma Could Sell Pot — But Your Dime Bag Would Still Send You to Jail,” below. Full text of the story appears here. Please feel free to share and comment.

If the Feds Get Their Way, Big Pharma Could Sell Pot — But Your Dime Bag Would Still Send You to Jail
“[M]arijuana has no scientifically proven medical value.” So stated the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on page six of a July 2010 agency white paper, entitled ‘DEA Position on Marijuana.’
Yet only four months after the agency committed its ‘no medical pot’ stance to print, it announced its intent to allow for the regulation and marketing of pharmaceutical products containing plant-derived THC – the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
But don’t for a second believe that the DEA has experienced a sudden change of heart regarding patients’ use of the marijuana plant – use that is now legal under state law in fifteen states and the District of Columbia (although recently approved laws in Arizona, New Jersey, and Washington, DC still await implementation). Despite growing public support for medical marijuana legalization, America’s top anti-drug agency remains resolute that these hundreds of thousands of medi-pot patients are no more than common criminals, and that their herbal remedy of choice is nothing more than the ‘Devil’s weed.’
It’s not pressure from the public that’s motivating the agency to consider rescheduling an organic cannabinoid for the first time since the creation of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970. (Under this act, all prescription drugs are classified as schedule II, III, IV, or IV controlled substances, while all illicit substances are categorized as schedule I drugs.) And it’s not the recent publication of a series of FDA-approved ‘gold standard’ clinical trials affirming the plant’s safety and efficacy that’s prompting the agency into action. (The DEA has so far refused to acknowledge that these studies even exist.) Rather, the agency’s sudden call for regulatory change is inspired by far more politically influential forces. The DEA is responding to the demands of Big Pharma.

100 thoughts

  1. Screw you, Big Pharma. You’re the reason most municipal drinking water supplies in the U.S. are fluoridated, contributing to fatal bone cancer in children as well as causing other kinds of long-term bodily harm to all our poor people and homeless. Thank you, Big Pharma, may you wake up in the middle of every night hearing screams and cries of the hundreds of millions whose right to happiness you’ve precluded.

  2. People may disagree with me on this, but doesn’t this count as a (small) victory?
    Rescheduling cannabis to Schedule III from Schedule I legitimizes it somewhat, even if the DEA is doing this for the wrong reasons. I’m not going to say that it’s cause for a huge celebration or anything, but I think most victories are made in baby steps. Although none of us get any direct benefit from this decision, and too many people are still being stuffed in jail for harmless ‘crimes,’ this is a baby step in the right direction.
    On that note, does this rescheduling have any material effect on prison sentences/fines/anything else for minor possession?
    [Paul Armentano responds: Please read the entire article. The DEA is not proposing to reschedule cannabis from schedule I to schedule III; they are proposing rescheduling FDA-approved pharmaceutical products that contain one natural compound in the cannabis plant. The plant will remain illegal. The THC extracts will also remain illegal — unless they are part of a FDA-approved product, such as the proposed products I cited in my article.]

  3. This is a great peak behind the curtain in what is the maybe the greatest hypocritical tragedy of the last century. Also, lest we forget, the federal government’s patent on cannabinoids expires in 10 years. I assume that big pharma will need to take a license to sell these “new” THC applications.

  4. This is what the Government has been waiting for; Once again Big Pharma will make billions off of a natural plant and they will give it all these side affects that it doesn’t have and no state will any longer be able to have “Medical Marijuana” any more and the DEA can go on putting non-violent offenders in prison. Our Government SUCK’S. Who can have respect for such panty waste???

    WE OBJECT!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Screw the DEA. What Im ready for is a 40 billion dollar reduction in spending wasted on the DEA.The DEA budget should be cut by no less than 75% once Marijuana is legalized. Time forthe DEA to stop helping their fellow lobbyist for the private prison systme in the United States. Both Private prisons (taxpayer savings)and the DEA (more txpayer savings) can be eliminated with the legalization of marijuana. Their services will no longer be needed. LIBERTY.

  7. Once again Big Pharma, like most of the corporate financial plutocrats that control this nation, bends government to its whim. With the exception of Sativex, which contains natural THC and CBD, most of these medications have been proven drastically inferior to the whole plant. Synthetic THC has not proven as effective as natural, and even natural THC extract is only a small part of the benefits of medical cannabis use.
    It is exceptionally telling that they attempt to place it in Schedule III, not Schedule II, meaning that even the FDA knows that the potential for harm is minimal and abuse is moderate at best. Schedule III is where many anti-anxiety, barbiturate, stimulant, and lowest-tier opioids are found, compared to Schedule II where stronger opioids/opiates are present and the restrictions are considerable (no refills, no phone-in prescriptions).
    While it goes without saying that we must continue to lobby for full legalization and implementation of medical programs, this could provide a small step forward in the field of drug screening. If THC and plant-derived cannabinoids become legal through prescription, then it will be no longer permissible to have random drug screening to catch users. I am a chronically ill patient in a state without medical cannabis and due to my opiate prescriptions, my pain management physician is required to run urine screenings on patients every few months, to ensure you’re not using other drugs. Thankfully my physician is aware of the medical benefits of cannabis and is willing to be understanding, but for the safety of his practice under audit I need to come up clean on the urine screening. The test used is a high-tier urinalysis and he informed me that even for a once-daily user, it would show up on the test for a month or more after cessation of use! These metabolites of THC are of course fat soluble and thus are excreted slowly. It is absolutely insane that one can be penalized with a positive result even though use hasn’t occurred for over a month! Can you imagine if breathalyzers or other alcohol usage screenings came up positive for such a long duration and legal rulings were accorded upon them?! Hopefully, be it synthetic or plant derived, a Schedule III THC prescription on the market would mean that it would not be appropriate to penalize or provide random checks for cannabis any longer, save for those actually proving intoxication behind the wheel of a vehicle of similar, which even expensive urinalysis cannot do as the metabolites clearly come up positive long after any psychoactive effects have ceased.
    Aside from that possible benefit, this is once again an illustration of corporations being able to play by different rules than the rest of society. I do not look forward to expensive pharmaceuticals with limited benefits being available while patients are denied cheap access to the superior substance itself.

  8. A witch Doctor, I thought you said a rich doctor, In my dream, the drug cops, dea, will be hunted down like the Nazi Gestapo agents, and when they are Judicially Hung The Law will guide us all to a better world.

  9. There’s so much I’d like to say, but I hardly know where to start… Has the DEA gone too far this time? That’s about as “in your face weaklings” as it gets!

  10. The DEA said that cannabis is “the Devils weed” but god said in gen. 1:11,12 and 29 that it’s good and that it was meant for us so why is it that we live in a christian country is gods plant illegal?

  11. I would like to quote Terence McKenna: “If the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it was written on.”

  12. i bet the 14.1 trillion we don’t have that this will slip under the radar and not generate enough of an uproar.


  14. That’s what I get for leaving a comment without first actually reading the article. I must be picking up bad habits from slashdot.
    Would this action at least leave more rhetorical ammunition in the hands of drug policy reform activists? Or am I just grasping at straws trying to find the upside of this?

  15. This is absolute BULLSHIT! Guess big pharma needs something to make up for all the pill mill raids in south FL today?
    It does pose an interesting dilemma though. How will the drug-testing nazis know the difference for employment screenings?

  16. I wonder if, when you obtain one of these prescriptions for plant derived cannabinoids, they will list one of the side effects as “leads to heroin”.

  17. The DEA just want to be able to use this as an excuse as to why medical Marijuana should not be legal. It’s just another ploy to keep it all illegal. If they have Marinol then they can say “you don’t need to use the “Crude Plant” when you have Marinol” or whatever the synthetic concoction turns out to be.

  18. Nothing has changed. Legal drug companies are still pulling the strings in D.C.
    The momentum toward legalization grows the more attractive the revenues and jobs from it are.
    It’s money coming in versus money going out. Big Pharma will have to settle for having more Americans covered under socialized health care to get their profits that way. Tobacco and alcohol companies have the cash to start up subsidiaries to deal with the huge costs of the changeover and sell cannabis franchises. $$$ It’s one way to reduce the deficit–read as budget fix–for government employees. It’s a money pie, and everybody needs to get their share.
    So much for the brain trusts in corporate America.
    I mean, really. Do I have to think of everything, even for the private sector?! Really.

  19. Keep plantin em eventaully we will out number them, I see this as the begining of the end of this failed public policy. Informe everyone you see the plant deemed unfit for medi value or even humman consumption for that fact, is now being indorsed by the feds for those very things.What ground will they stand on when nonusers begin to question and demand answers. I dont mean like two or three.I mean everyone.

  20. I am afraid that North Americans will never live on their feet the way that the Tunisians and Egyptians did. They will die on their knees praying to their imaginary friends or begging mercy from the Corporate State.

  21. This is pure evil. If this does not send a message out that big business controls government I don’t know what will.

  22. This might help explain it. Statistics for 2001 in the alcohol industry not including ethanol were 49,973 establishments,335 million employees, 3.5 billion in annual payroll,3.9 billion in taxes. If cannabis were made legal you would see something very similar to this. That’s a lot of money and it makes this a very high stakes issue.The government is trying to figure out who gets what.

  23. Can you be more obvious than that? This is the most blatant form of profit-motivated corruption I’ve ever seen.
    One day the DEA goes from saying marijuana has no medicinal properties to INSTANTLY reversing its policy when big pharma has a chance.

  24. The wheels of government and public opinion move slowly. Let’s interpret this as a victory, however limited and hypocritical. It will allow the states more room to make their own judgement with less hassle from the Feds, even if it’s still seen as illegal. Hooray Cannabis, Hooray Marijuana!!

  25. 1. The Alternet posting has– guess what– a picture of a hot burning $igarette (alias “joint”) at the top, not unlike most media which accert articles concerning cannabis. Armentano take note: your excellent article is read by, who knows, 40-60% of the readers who see that $igarette advertising at the top? Big 2WackGo wins again. So it goes. You might suggest to them next time that they show a picture of a vaporizer (which millions of American readers have probably to date never seen a photo of) or perish forbid even a cheap one-hitter (see “How to Make Smoke Pipes From Everyday Objects”).
    2. Oracle mentions the huge $$ funding tobacckgo companies have when the signal is heard inviting them to shift over and dominate cannabis. I think it may be necessary to throw some bailout at these Too Big To Fail corporations with their millions of dependent joblings worldwide, meanwhile we can get busy making sure there is a Granny on every streetcorner raising good quality gardenweed. (And handcrafting enough of those low-temperature 25-mg.-serving-size utensils: read the paragraph “Vaporizing with a one hitter” in Wikipedia: One hitter (smoking). Excuse the oxymoron. If the title didn’t mention “smoking” readers would miss their chance to learn how to vaporize without spending $hundreds on professional appliances.
    3. Finally, the connection between Big 2WackGo and Big pHARMa: without $billions in sales of Marlboro, there wouldn’t be $billions in sales of Lipitor. It takes nicotine slavery to get anyone to make themselves sick enough to need all those high profit drugs.

  26. And once again, my fellow americans, we are getting fucked in the ass, anyone ready to take it to the streets yet? I can keep waiting, you know, like the jews did? What really sucks is they waited too long to say “NO MORE” when they finally spoke, they got a bullet in the head for answer. The fourth reich is rising in front of your eyes but hey! no problem, keep saying you are free (to consume and produce), keep saying these are conspiracy theories for CRAZY people but whatever you do, don’t think. Good luck.

  27. West Virginia introduces medical herb!
    [Paul Armentano responds: FYI, NORML has been working with the sponsor of this bill for several months to craft this bill’s language. This is the first such medicalization bill to be introduced in West Virginia. You can contact your House members in favor of this measure via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here:

  28. It’s all about the money that’s why the plant will still be illegal. I mean why can someone get a prescription for morphine and codeine, but growing poppy for consumption is illegal? Money.

  29. Why are we paying people to do this stupid shit ? Cant we fire someone? Can we impeach the whole fucking lot on capitol hill. I have no respect for these ass holes or there laws! HEY WASHINGTON FUCK YOU & THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON !

  30. The DEA are nothing but the BIG BROTHER AUTHORITARIANS behind MARIJUANA PROHIBITION and protecting BIG PHARMA. And don’t forget the FDA (FEDERAL DEATH AUTHORITY) that approve drugs for human consumption that maim and kill a certain percentage of the population in which they are not much different than a lab animal except humans can sue BIG PHARMA. Put the cannaboid into a pill,capsule liquid or spray to market it to make it look legitimate. There is still the battle between NATURAL AND SYNTHETIC and BIG PHARMA getting crushed little by little by the NEW MOTHER NATURE. The DEA will still continue on with their UNICORN MENTALITY till thre are no civilians left. History on the repeat of the early 1930’S, but this time THE POT NAZI ESTABLISHMENT of the 21ST CENTURY.

  31. I hate the fact that Pennsylvania is so conservative. Why is alcohol legal it’s not medicine~ It causes liver damamage, divorces, domestic violence, Fights, unwanted pregnancies and suicides. Cigarettes aren’t medicine either! they cause lung disease and cancer. and all of these are man made! Why is it, that God makes this natural plant that brings peace to all and the Government wants to ban it and put innocent people in jail with harden criminals~ they want to destroy local crops and business and let our law inforcement agents get killed from the Mexican drug cartel to keep these boarder wars going. They are putting our officers life in Jeopardy all over the place. P.S.~ WE NEED FOR EVERY STATE TO BAND TOGETHER and march the streets in DC! We need to unite, stand strong and not compromise! WE ARE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! Let our voices be heard!

  32. look i think they should just let us have it sell it like cigz it dose not hurt you the DEA just needs to back off and let it be i smoked every day Intel i went to jail for seeds and a pip that was not mine but i love it what is the big dill whit it why do they heat it.

  33. Seems the DEA has been putting their little brains to work finding a way to get back into those states that have medical marijuana and start raiding those dispensaries again.
    This is not about the big money that pharmaceutical companies can make, it’s about showing Obama that there is now an alternative and federally approved replacement for medical marijuana and convince him to let them go back to work in California.
    I am sure that it chapped their asses when the President advised them to stand down. They have been itching to get back in there and start slapping the cuffs on marijuana users again.
    I am afraid that if this goes through, it will undo 15 years of progress towards medical marijuana and set us back even further in attempts at legalization 🙁

  34. hey guys before you get too uptight over this remember that big pharma has to sell these pills to make any money or side affect list or anything else for that matter.if we already have our meds why would we buy anything else.i say start a campaign against these new pills they will be peddling letting the world know that they are no good for you.demonize them like they demonized the greatest gift from god……cannabis sativa

  35. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most well-known psychoactive cannabinoid but it is not the only cannabinoid being used or studied for use for treatment for medical conditions. Cannabis contains approximately 70 different active ingredients called cannabinoids, only a few of which are psychoactive.
    Another well-known cannabinoid is CBD (cannabidiol), which is not psychoactive but currently represents only about 0.5 percent of the herbal weight. In many well-designed scientific studies, these and other cannabinoids appear to be therapeutic.
    The 1999 Institute of Medicine Report clearly stated that “accumulated data indicate a potential therapeutic value for cannabinoid drugs, particularly in the areas of pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting and appetite stimulation.”
    Research in the past 10 years has revealed much more.
    The International Cannabinoid Research Society held its 19th annual symposium in St. Charles, Ill., in July, sponsored by the NIH, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and several pharmaceutical companies, among others. This symposium brought together reputable scientists from 25 nations and over 100 research labs to share new findings. These researchers have long recognized the use of cannabinoids for a wide array of symptoms that include nausea and vomiting, pain management, muscle spasticity, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and insomnia.
    Cannabinoids are naturally recognized in the bodies of animal species all the way down to invertebrates. In humans, CB1 receptors are found in the brain, and CB2 receptors are found throughout the immune system. These receptors couple with the body’s own internally produced cannabinoids, in addition to coupling with inhaled or ingested cannabis.
    Startling news about cancer and cannabinoids was recently published by Donald Abrams, MD, Chief of Hematology-Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and Manuel Guzman, PhD, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Complutense University in Madrid, Spain. These experts found that cannabinoids inhibit tumor growth and also appear to specifically kill tumor cells without affecting cells that are still healthy. Tumor cells that have been shown to be sensitive to cannabinoid-induced growth inhibition include leukemia/lymphoma, skin, uterus, and breast, gastric, colorectal, pancreatic and prostate carcinomas.
    The safety profile of cannabinoids is impressive: unlike opiates, cannabinoids do not affect areas in the brain that control breathing. The lethal (LD50) dose of inhaled cannabis has been estimated to be 1,500 pounds smoked in 15 minutes. The psychoactive qualities of THC limit effective medicinal use in many patients, so development of strains that contain less THC and more CBD is being encouraged. It does appear that whole-plant use is more effective than isolating and using any single cannabinoid.
    Medical Uses of Cannabinoids

  36. So the DEA will really have to classify approximately 70 different active ingredients called cannabinoids…not just THC. In 1999 the IOM report suggested the possibility of research into these other cannabinoids might perhaps produce an analgesic drug as powerful as morphine…but non-addictive and perhaps fatal overdose proof. Read the report…It is obvious that the DEA and FDA have not.

    1. Big pharma will produce a capsule of medical grade [2-3%] hybrid extract in graduated doses [no more 35% THC].
    2. Doctors will write a prescription for it [Recommendation no longer necessary].
    3. Pharmacies will dispense [in a convenient pill bottle].
    Will insurance companies pick up the cost? That’s been a topic for discussion for quite a while?
    Because the whole plant material will remain a schedule I substance [federally illegal], will state sovereignty laws and patient collectives survive against federal enforcement?
    There’s more to this invasion by big pharmacy and a collaborative government than meets the eye. How will it change so many laws i.e. Federal Employment Laws [being a federally legal schedule III prescriptive drug]? What effect will it have on those presently incarcerated for a, now, legal substance. Will it mean a release of non-violent offenders?
    Whatever happens in the near future – it’s going to be very interesting outcome.

  38. 42 mark
    If I’m not mistaken, and correct me if I’m wrong, in these raids, the raiders are ordered to shoot the dogs immediately. What does PETA have to say about that? I would tell you what I have to say about that – but – they would come get me for sure. Use your imagination. I will say this though – There’s 15,000 abandoned mine shafts in the state of Nevada.

  39. wait– so doesn’t this mean that they are leaving it up to the FDA to decide what is an approved product? I know why you guys think it’s bad (and F*** big Pharma), but getting a product past the FDA seems MUCH easier than getting the DEA to relax their standards. Isn’t this sort of a stepping stone then?
    Clearly these douches would love to take any medicinal value of pot and remove any enjoyment factor we get from taking it– but isn’t this kind of contrary thinking just going to end up backfiring on them? They’ve created an additional complication, meaning they’ve stacked the house of cards even higher. While trying to push us back, they’ve accidentally made themselves weaker.
    Once marijuana laws are so confused nobody knows what they mean anymore we’ll be ready for a precision strike to end prohibition!
    [Paul Armentano responds: To clarify, it is always up to the FDA to determine safety and efficacy of a new pharmaceutical product that a company is attempting to bring to market. This change simply acknowledges that if the FDA approves products containing either synthesized or naturally-derived THC that the DEA will classify said products as schedule III substances so that they can be marketed and sold legally in the U.S.]

  40. So if the DEA is reclassifying THC derived from plants doesn’t that mean that someone has to grow and supply the plants? If so, then I would consider that a big win.
    [Paul Armentano responds: Yes, the grower will be the federal government — via Elsohly Labs at the University at Mississippi at Oxford — and nobody else. Read the entire article.]

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