Though it probably comes as no surprise, a new report confirms the DEA systematically thwarted research into both cannabis and MDMA for medicinal use and potential rescheduling. Additionally, the Drug Policy Alliance and Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) found in their report, the federal government maintains an “unjustifiable monopoly” on research-grade cannabis — preventing independent producers from contributing to any scientific studies.
According to the report, bluntly titled “The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding and Rejecting Science,” a compilation of case studies “illustrate a decades-long pattern of behavior that demonstrates the agency’s inability to exercise its responsibilities in a fair and impartial manner or to act in accord with the scientific evidence — often as determined by its Administrative Law Judges.”
In effecting inexcusably lengthy delays for cannabis research approval and refusing to reschedule the plant, the Drug Enforcement Agency has and continues to prevent countless people from obtaining crucial — in some cases, lifesaving — medicine they need.
Beyond unnecessary delays, the DEA has created a “Catch-22” — saying marijuana has no medicinal value, while impeding research which would likely prove otherwise.
“Through the use of such tactics, the DEA has consistently demonstrated that it is more interested in maintaining existing drug laws than in making important drug control decisions based on scientific evidence,” the report explains.
But such delays lopsidedly do not occur when the DEA moves to prohibit or further restrict a substance.
MDMA had been well-known to therapists and psychiatrists prior to the substance hitting the nightclub and underground circuit as ecstasy. But when the DEA got wind of its popularity as a recreational drug, the agency hastily responded to a senator’s request for MDMA to be scheduled.
In line with the agency’s consistent disregard for science, according to the report, the DEA was surprised when a number of respected mental health professionals requested a hearing about the intent to list the substance as Schedule I.
“I would regard the scheduling of this drug as a scientific calamity,” wrote psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden at the time, as cited in the report. “On the basis of the review of the literature concerning the uses of this drug in psychotherapy, and on the basis of reports from highly respected colleagues who have experimented with MDMA as an adjunct to psychotherapy, I implore you to leave the door open for further research, exploration, and study in this area — by opposing any rulings that would restrict the use of MDMA such that scientific investigators and psychotherapists would no longer have free and uncomplicated access.”
Dr. Alexander Shulgin felt similarly, but acknowledged the “abuse potential” of MDMA, and thus argued for the lesser Schedule III for its “unquestioned medical utility.”
Interestingly, DEA Administrative Law Judge Frances Young’s ruling in 1986 recommending MDMA be placed under Schedule III was overturned by a second Administrative Law Judge — and the substance was placed under Schedule I. Though a federal appeals court subsequently overturned the DEA’s decision, the agency went to great lengths to again place MDMA — despite established medicinal benefit and low potential for abuse — under Schedule I.
“Its criminalization never should have happened,” wrote Drs. Marsha Rosenbaum and Rick Doblin in a study several years afterward. “MDMA had a beneficial therapeutic use prior to scheduling. Hundreds of therapists and psychiatrists used MDMA-assisted psychotherapy with thousands of patients suffering from terminal illness, trauma, marital difficulties, drug addiction, phobias, and other disorders […]
“Ultimately, criminalization had little deterrent effect on the recreational user population while substantially reducing its therapeutic use. Perhaps the most profound effect of MDMA’s illegality has been the curtailment of scientific research and experimentation with a drug that held therapeutic potential.”
Cannabis obviously suffered a similar fate. Despite enormous efforts by doctors, advocates, patients, and even politicians to have the plant rescheduled, if not completely legalized, cannabis remains a Schedule I substance. In 2011, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Washington State Gov. Christine Gregoire filed a petition with the DEA requesting rescheduling.
Admonishing the DEA for the absurdity of maintaining cannabis as a Schedule I drug with no medical benefits, Gregoire wrote, “People weak and sick with cancer, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases and conditions suddenly feel like — or in fact become — law breakers.”
While a number of states have enacted medical or recreational cannabis laws, the prevailing federal prohibition has, indeed, created a class of patients known as medical refugees — those forced to either separate from or uproot their families to live where their medicine is legal. Others simply break the arbitrary and wholly unnecessary law.
Prisons in the U.S. house an unprecedented number of nonviolent criminals who violated laws from the miserably failed drug war.
This study proves beyond doubt the DEA remains hell-bent on politicizing medically beneficial substances rather than ‘protecting’ the public.