Last Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it was seeking public comments regarding “abuse potential, actual abuse, medical usefulness, trafficking, and impact of scheduling changes on availability for medical use ….” of cannabis and other substances currently under international review. If you want to take FDA up on its offer, go here.
The FDA’s announcement was released as the World Health Organization (“WHO”)’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (“ECDD”) prepares to discuss the medical and legal status of cannabis in a November meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. Specifically, the ECDD is evaluating whether to recommend that certain international restrictions be placed or removed on the plant.
As we have previously discussed (here and here), marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance under U.S. federal law and international drug treaties. Schedule I drugs, substances, and chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and with a high potential for abuse. Consequently, nations that are signatories to these international drug treaties are expected to treat cannabis as an illegal substance. However, depending on the outcome of the survey conducted by the ECDD, the November meeting may bring us one step closer to the rescheduling of cannabis, giving signatories the freedom to decriminalize, and possibly legalize, the plant within their own borders.
Legalization advocates are hopeful that a careful review of the medical values of the plant will result in the rescheduling of marijuana. Groups like the Marijuana Policy Project intend to submit scientific and anecdotal evidence detailing the benefits of cannabis. Their optimism is undoubtedly fueled by previous ECDD recommendations to deschedule “preparations considered to be pure CBD,” the non-psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant, which the ECDD concluded did not appear to have abuse potential nor present a significant risk to the public health.
However, even if the ECDD report were to favor the legalization of cannabis, it would take some time to implement this global reform. In its announcement, the FDA explained that it will not make any recommendations to the ECDD regarding whether cannabis should be subject to international controls at the moment. Instead, it will defer such consideration until the ECDD has made official considerations to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which are expected to be made in mid-2019. Moreover, the FDA declared that any position it takes on this issue will be preceded by another Federal Register notice, soliciting public comments.
Of course, the United States could deschedule marijuana before the international community takes that step—after all Canada, Uruguay and Portugal have managed to go around the international ban. According to a recent Fox News interview of Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the Trump administration intends to relax federal marijuana laws and regulations after the midterm election.
Rep. Rohrabacher declared he has been “talking to people inside the White House” about ending cannabis prohibition and that he has been “reassured” that the president will stick to his promise to protect state cannabis laws from federal interference.
While it is premature to determine whether the Trump Administration will soon loosen, and possibly legalize, federal cannabis laws, it is clear that the international effort to study the medical and legal status of cannabis are promising steps.
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