The Drug Enforcement Agency has been in conversation with the FDA on medical marijuana research and its status as a Schedule 1 drug.

A letter from the DEA dated April 4th (and released by the Huffington Post April 5th) addressed recent questions from several of the Democratic Senators cosponsoring The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, a proposition introduced in March of 2015 to shield from federal law those abiding by their state marijuana regulations, expand research, and make marijuana a Schedule II drug. While that bill is stuck in Senate limbo, the DEA may be looking to make that schedule change anyway.

The bombshell in the letter isn’t that the DEA is considering a recommendation on rescheduling marijuana (mainly because there is no indication what that recommendation will be) but that there are “hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016.” In addition to marijuana, CBD is being evaluated for scheduling determination as an isolated drug.

A Schedule 1 Drug by definition has no medical benefit (as well as a “high potential for abuse”; therefore, changing its schedule has always depended on medical research. In addition to an inventory of the current marijuana available for federal research at the University of Mississippi, the letter discusses the potential to “increase the number of permits for the bulk manufacture of marijuana for research purposes,” in anticipation of the need for additional study and genetic variety in federal research.

It looks like the DEA is interested in expanding federal research beyond a single grow facility and 265 registered researchers. Looking at the breakdown of the marijuana available for research (the facility produces Placebo and Low, Medium, High and Very High THC varieties, each of which contain strains with very low to very high CBD content), it’s not hard to see that genetic variety is sorely needed in order to expand medical study to encompass each component of the endocannabinoid system.

The long-overdue removal of marijuana from Schedule 1 would signal the federal acknowledgement of marijuana as medicine and turn a major page in the story of medical cannabis.  At NuVue Pharma, we’re watching to see if that day is coming in 2016.

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