Editorial: Stop blocking marijuana research

The federal government has shown no interest in leading on marijuana policy. It has shown no interest in following.

Instead, it’s been doing its best to do the worst thing: blocking. It’s blocking important research, though that may change this year.

You’ve probably heard that an ingredient in marijuana, cannabinoids, has shown dramatic medical promise, particularly in the treatment of severe epilepsy. More research is needed.

Just to be clear, the medicinal impact doesn’t come from making the patients high. What’s used is an extract that has a lot of the cannabinoids and is low in THC, the stuff in pot that makes people high.

Scientists need to know how good the drug is and what else it can do. But the federal government is making that about as difficult as it can.

Marijuana has been a Schedule 1 controlled substance since 1972. That means it is classified as having a high potential for abuse and no medically accepted use.

So as much as researchers may be excited about finding out what cannabinoids can do — even when recreational or medical use may be legal — it’s risky to do research with that federal designation.

But let’s say researchers want to take the risk. They are going to have a heck of a time getting the drug to study.

There’s a federal monopoly on marijuana for research purposes at the University of Mississippi. It can take years to get drugs to study. Supply is not keeping up with research demands.

The Drug Enforcement Administration could change the designation of marijuana to a Schedule 2 drug. That would acknowledge it has potential for medical use. The DEA has shown little inclination for making that change, so far. It may do so this year.

If the DEA fails to act, Congress should compel it to make the change.

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