Despite a ruling by the federal government this week, marijuana will one day be regulated and legalized for medical treatments in states such as New Jersey, some medical experts, marijuana advocates and politicians say.
The Obama administration announced Thursday it will not remove marijuana from a list of the most dangerous drugs, many of which are illegal to consume and possess. The decision came after two Democratic governors asked them to reconsider how it is processed under federal drug control laws.
Officials from the DEA said there was not enough evidence to prove that marijuana has accepted medical use for treatment in the United States. The drug is grouped with others such as heroin, LSD and a methamphetamine-like recreational drug called Ecstasy or Molly.
“The DEA’s failure to reclassify marijuana is disappointing,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Booker. “There are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows, and choosing to ignore the medical value of marijuana defies common sense and the scientific evidence.”
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. The category includes drugs that have a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use and “a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision,” according to the DEA.
Schedule II drugs, which are also highly addictive, include oxycodone (OxyContin or Percocet), morphine, hydrocodone and codeine, all of which have proved to be useful in medicine.
In a letter to Democratic governors, DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg said the decision was made with input from the U.S. Department of Human and Heath Services. Although they will not reclassify, the decision allows expanded research opportunities for the medical uses of marijuana.
Booker said although the expansion is a step in the right direction, the DEA did not take enough progressive action.
While marijuana is still illegal under federal law, 43 states, including New Jersey, have allowed some form of medical use of the drug. There are six alternative treatment centers in the state that dispense medical marijuana to qualified patients, including one in Egg Harbor Township.
Dr. David Nathan, a member of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform and founder of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, said the current classification and regulation of marijuana does not fall in line with current science and the way it is used.
“It’s in a stricter category than cocaine. That’s incongruous with science and reason,” Nathan said. “We really need to follow the science. Is marijuana harmless? No, but it’s not so bad in regards to the dangerousness of other drugs.”
Nathan, a psychiatrist based in Princeton, said although the government did not have evidence as to how marijuana can help medically, he knows that it helped a former terminally ill patient of his manage pain, sleeping and eating habits at the end of a battle with cancer.
“You have someone going through chemotherapy, with nausea, vomiting, they can’t sleep. You give them cannabis and ask them if they feel better. The answer is certainly yes,” he said.
The battle over how medical marijuana is regulated and used is ongoing. Booker and other U.S. senators introduced a bill last year that would reschedule marijuana and amend federal law to allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies. States have already begun to do that, but the drug use is still illegal under federal law.
Is it inevitable that New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, along with other state programs, will be legal under federal law in the future?
“If science and reason carry the day, then yes, it’s inevitable,” Nathan said. “Americans are behind legalization. It’s government officials who are slow to the change.”