Legalization advocates aren’t the only ones who recognize that marijuana’s current restrictive federal classification inhibits research. Recently, a group involving several of the nation’s leading prohibition supporters raised this issue with Congress.
Friends of the National Institute On Drug Abuse (FNIDA) submitted recommended language on the issue to a Senate committee, voicing concern that the the status of cannabis and other drugs as a Schedule I controlled substances is preventing scientists from conducting valuable research.
It also contained text calling NIDA, a federal agency, to issue a report on research barriers related to marijuana’s scheduling status.
FNIDA describes itself in a newly published Senate document as “a coalition of over 150 scientific and professional societies, patient groups, and other organizations committed to preventing and treating substance use disorders as well as understanding their causes through the research agenda of NIDA.”
The group aimed to have the language adopted into a fiscal year 2019 spending report for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies. It’s not clear when FNIDA submitted the statement, but theirs and other recommendations were released by the Government Publishing Office earlier this month.
Here’s what FNIDA urged the committee to adopt:
“Barriers to Research—The Committee is concerned that restrictions associated with Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act [CSA] effectively limit the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain Schedule 1 drugs, especially marijuana or its component chemicals and certain synthetic drugs. At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs, we should be lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research. The Committee directs NIDA to provide a short report on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule 1 substances.”
Similar language made it into an Appropriations Committee report that was approved in September.
Notably, several members of FNIDA have publicly contradicted the submission, arguing that rescheduling isn’t necessary to support research efforts. That includes Kevin Sabet, president of the prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), who serves on the group’s Board of Scientific Advisors, according to a 2019 FNIDA letter that expressed support for a congressional cannabis research bill that seeks to amend the CSA.
Sabet’s group said in 2015 that rescheduling would not “solve the problem of the need for more research, and instead would likely encourage illegal operators to continue to manufacture inferior products.”
In a Huffington Post piece, he wrote that discussion about reclassifying marijuana is “distracting and essentially meaningless” and doing so would “mainly serve as a symbolic victory for marijuana advocates.”
In a 2013 law review article, Sabet argued that “it is not necessary for marijuana to be rescheduled in order for legitimate research to proceed. Schedule I status does not prevent a product from being tested and researched for potential medical use” (though he did acknowledge that “additional Schedule I restrictions can delay a research program”).
The FNIDA letterhead also lists vocal legalization opponents such as former White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey, former NIDA Director Robert DuPont and former Office of National Drug Control Policy Deputy Director Bertha Madras as scientific advisors.
As drug czar, McCaffrey argued that marijuana “can’t be moved to Schedule two.”
Madras has applauded the Drug Enforcement Administration for denying a rescheduling petition, calling it “a victory for science that, to me, is very comforting.” She also said that moving marijuana to Schedule II would be “conceivably unethical.”
Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), a cofounder of SAM, also sits on FNIDA’s Board of Scientific Advisors, and representatives of the Partnership for a Drug-free America, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America and the American Society of Addiction Medicine are members of the group’s executive committee.
Kennedy and DuPont joined Sabet in signing a 2014 SAM letter asking the Obama administration not to reschedule marijuana, claiming that a change in status would be “scientifically dubious” and “is not necessary to facilitate research.”
Despite the vocal anti-rescheduling advocacy of several of its members, this is at least the third year in a row that FNIDA has implored Congress to integrate its recommended language on marijuana research into spending reports, and each year, similar text has appeared.
NIDA Director Nora Volkow acknowledged in April that “the moment that a drug gets a Schedule I, which is done in order to protect the public so that they don’t get exposed to it, it makes research much harder.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat said earlier this month that while her agency provides testing guidance to state health departments, cannabis’s federal scheduling status has presented “some challenges” and delays in efforts to effectively test vaping products that contain THC amid an outbreak of severe lung injuries.
SAM and FNIDA did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s requests for comment for this story.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.