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April 1, 2011

Backtracking To Protect Schedule I

"The potential benefits of medicinal Cannabis for people living with cancer include antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep. In the practice of integrative oncology, the health care provider may recommend medicinal Cannabis not only for symptom management but also for its possible direct antitumor effect. ...

Cannabinoids may cause antitumor effects by various mechanisms, including induction of cell death, inhibition of cell growth, and inhibition of tumor angiogenesis and metastasis. [9-11] Cannabinoids appear to kill tumor cells but do not affect their nontransformed counterparts and may even protect them from cell death. These compounds have been shown to induce apoptosis in glioma cells in culture and induce regression of glioma tumors in mice and rats." ~ Original Statement of the National Cancer Institute

Currently, sixteen states have legalized medical cannabis use to some extent.  Despite the fact that states have implemented procedures and legislation regarding cultivation and use of medical marijuana by qualified patients, the federal government, through their Drug Enforcement Administration, continues to stifle and interfere with state and individual action in compliance with state medicinal cannabis laws.

Earlier this month, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a branch of the federal government’s National Institutes of Health, posted a webpage explaining the possible benefits of marijuana in fighting cancer tumors. Less than two weeks after it went up, the webpage was altered the statement and stricken all reference to the direct antitumoral effects of cannabis. Why would the NCI do this, and why is it a big deal if a government agency cites to a study showing positive health benefits of medicinal cannabis?

Despite being approved for medical use in 16 states, the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. 801 et seq., makes it unlawful to “manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense” any controlled substance. It is also a crime to possess any controlled substance except as authorized by the Act.  Persons who violate federal law are subject to criminal and civil penalties.  The restrictions that the Controlled Substances Act places on the manufacture, distribution, and possession of a controlled substance depend upon the schedule in which the drug has been placed. Since the Controlled Substances Act was enacted in 1970, marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, the most restrictive schedule (along with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy).  Schedule I is the only category of controlled substances that may not be prescribed by a physician.

According to 21 U.S.C. 812(b) (1) (A)-(C), a drug is listed in Schedule I if the following findings have been made:

(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse;
(B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; and
(C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

Under federal law, it is unlawful to manufacture, distribute, dispense, or possess marijuana or any other Schedule I drug, except as part of a strictly controlled research project that has been registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.  

During his campaign, President Barack Obama signaled that he would cease the DEA's raids in California as President. On March 18, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced "a shift in the enforcement of federal drug laws, saying the administration would effectively end the Bush administration’s frequent raids on distributors of medical marijuana."  In October 2009, the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney General issued a memorandum to the Attorney Generals of the then 14 states that allowed for medical marijuana prescriptions.  The directive specifically set forth the following :

As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana. For example, prosecution of individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources. On the other hand, prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the Department. To be sure, claims of compliance with state or local law may mask operations inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of those laws, and federal law enforcement should not be deterred by such assertions when otherwise pursuing the Department's core enforcement priorities.

Despite the Federal Memorandum, raids have continued, yet the federal government ceased issuance of press releases and the holding of press conferences related to the raids as been protocol in the previous administration.   To continue shielding public awareness of the raids, the Federal prosecutor requests that cases be sealed under court order.  It is difficult to understand why the federal government would go to these measures of subduing the medical cannabis movement when the Health and Human Services Division holds a patent for medical marijuana.

So, back to the original question, why would the National Cancer Institute alter their initial report that medical marijuana has direct antitumoral effects?  Well, this statement would be a direct contradiction to the Controlled Substance Act stance that marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." 

Regardless of your view on marijuana and its place in our society, people should be free to choose natural and holistic treatments over more popular pharmaceutical treatment methods.  For some time, our federal government has known of the medical benefits of cannabis use.  Regardless, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug.  It is time that marijuana is removed from the list of Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substance Act.  It is without reason or scientific support that marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug, and if it is removed from this schedule, the federal government would be limited in their power to shut down or interfere with medical cannabis patients that comply with state law.  

"The potential benefits of medicinal Cannabis for people living with cancer include antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep. Though no relevant surveys of practice patterns exist, it appears that physicians caring for cancer patients who prescribe medicinal Cannabis predominantly do so for symptom management."  Revised quote from the NCI