The Drug Enforcement Administration on Thursday rejected a petition to loosen federal restrictions on the use of marijuana. In making the move, however, the DEA did allow for more facilities to grow marijuana for use in medical research.
While praising the decision to allow more marijuana to be grown, many lawmakers — Republican and Democrat alike — were dismayed at the DEA's determination that marijuana should remain in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, the most strictly regulated category.
There has been a flurry of action in Congress at the margins of federal marijuana policy in recent years. The House and Senate have passed legislation preventing the Justice Department from interfering with state-level medical marijuana laws. Just this year, bills have been introduced to broaden access to medical marijuana for veterans, make it easier for marijuana businesses to access banks, and reduce a raft of federal restrictions on marijuana.
Even lawmakers who have been skeptical about the merits of marijuana legalization, such as Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), have sponsored bills to facilitate better research on the drug by giving it a special designation within Schedule 1. Other lawmakers who want to keep marijuana in Schedule 1, such as Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), have been active in the push to find other ways to facilitate better marijuana research.
There are others in Congress, such as Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), who remain vehemently opposed to most efforts to broaden access to medical marijuana.
Lawmakers offered a mix of reactions to the DEA's decision on Thursday. Most praised the move to allow more facilities to grow marijuana for research. But many also criticized the DEA for keeping marijuana in the most restrictive category of regulation.
Here's what members have been saying today:
Statement from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.):
"This is an important first step toward helping countless children who suffer from seizures get the medicine they need. It's past due that we expand opportunities for medical research, and now the DEA needs to take the next step and remove marijuana from Schedule 1.
"It shouldn't take an act of Congress for the DEA to get past antiquated ideology and make this change, but in the meantime I'll continue urging my colleagues to pass our bipartisan legislation on behalf of the children and families who are suffering."
Statement from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.):
"I welcome the decision to lessen barriers to medical marijuana research. More than half the states — and counting — have legalized some form of medical marijuana. 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 1 continues an outdated, failed approach — leaving patients and marijuana businesses trapped between state and federal laws. This decision does not address other key concerns like the need for banking services and tax equity for small businesses operating legally in half the states. It’s not right or fair.
"Americans have spoken, with a majority supporting full legalization. It’s not enough to remove some barriers to medical research. Marijuana shouldn’t be listed as Schedule 1; it shouldn’t be listed at all. It is imperative, as part of the most progressive administration on marijuana in history, that the DEA work to end the failed prohibition of marijuana."
Statement from Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.):
"The DEA's refusal to reclassify marijuana to permit medical use is a cruel decision that ignores the suffering of patients who find well-documented relief in medical cannabis products. It also shows a profound disregard for where the medical community and the American public stand on the issue. Medical decisions should be made between a patient and his or her doctor — not the government.
"The DEA's policy perpetuates the nonsensical divergence between state and federal medical marijuana policies. The DEA should be spending its limited resources on targeting high priority narcotics rather than erecting roadblocks to medical marijuana."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), on Twitter:
People can argue about the pluses and minuses of marijuana, but everyone knows it's not a killer drug like heroin. https://t.co/jOftq1pnL9
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) August 11, 2016
Keeping marijuana in the same category as heroin is absurd. The time is long overdue for us to remove the federal prohibition on marijuana. — Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 11, 2016
If we are serious about criminal justice reform, we must remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 11, 2016
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), in a statement:
"I commend the DEA for heeding the call of the scientific community and Congress by removing one of the many burdensome barriers that deters much-needed legitimate research on medical marijuana. This is a positive step, but more work is required."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), in a statement:
"The decision by the DEA to continue to categorize marijuana in the same schedule as heroin, LSD, and other very dangerous drugs shows the disconnect between the Obama administration and the common sense of the American people.
The government’s continued allocation of resources and controls with the intent of trying to prevent the adult use of marijuana has been counterproductive and an indefensible limitation of people’s right to control their own lives.
The Obama administration has had the chance to correct a foolish and counterproductive policy. Now it’s up to the Congress and the next administration."
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), in a statement:
"What the administration is doing is consistent with my views that the government should facilitate research into whether there’s a scientific basis for marijuana-based medical products. Where there’s the will and the ability to conduct this research, scientists should have access to what they need.
"The parents of children with severe epilepsy and other conditions are interested in cannabidiol to try to ease their children’s symptoms. Research is necessary to determine the potential medical value of cannabidiol, and wherever possible, the government should help facilitate the scientific research needed to give these parents the answers they need.
"With encouragement from senators acting on behalf of our constituents, the administration is taking positive steps to help scientists do their work here."