DEA tells Elizabeth Warren decision on reclassifying marijuana could come by July
Senator Elizabeth Warren (Public Citizen/Flickr)

Agency says ruling could be made by July as timetable is the latest development in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s challenge to federal marijuana laws

The Drug Enforcement Administration said it could decide whether marijuana should remain classified at the same level as LSD and heroin in “the first half of 2016”.

The agency slipped this news into a letter to the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, who with seven other senators, had asked for more information on marijuana’s scheduling and about limits on medical marijuana research. The 25-page letter was obtained by Matt Ferner at the Huffington Post.

Because marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, it cannot be used in research and cannot be dispensed in pharmacies. Its use is also more restricted than drugs in the four lower classifications, which include cocaine and meth – Schedule II controlled substances.

And while medical marijuana is federally prohibited, it is legal in 23 states and Washington DC. This means marijuana dispensaries and growers acting within state law can be raided by authorities. In California’s so-called “Emerald Triangle”, medical marijuana farmers accused law enforcement of “running amok” with “commando-style” raids.

In response to a question about the timeline for the agency’s assessment of the Schedule I classification, the 4 April letter said: “DEA understands the widespread interest in the prompt resolution of these petitions and hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016.”

The letter also said the Food and Drug Administration has concluded a review of the safety of marijuana and its recommendation has been sent to the DEA. The FDA’s recommendation was not disclosed in the letter, which was signed by Sylvia Burwell, US department of health and human services secretary; Michael Botticelli, director of the office of national drug control policy; and Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator of the DEA.

This timetable is the latest development in Warren’s challenge to federal marijuana laws. In February, Warren wrote a letter to the CDC director, Thomas Frieden, asking for the agency to consider the role medical marijuana could play in combating the opioid crisis.

The letter also came just after a weekend protest in which hundreds smoked pot outside the White House with almost no law enforcement crackdown, carrying a 51ft fake joint that said: “Obama: Reschedule Cannabis Now.”

The Democratic frontrunner for president, Hillary Clinton, has said she thinks marijuana should be reclassified from Schedule I to Schedule II, while fellow Democrat Bernie Sanders introduced legislation in November 2015 to remove marijuana from the federal drug schedule.

None of the three remaining Republicans support legalization, though they support the rights of states to decide.

“Marijuana is such a big thing,” the GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump, said in October 2015. “I think medical should happen – right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.”