Drug Enforcement Administration officials must be smoking something if they actually believe that heroin and marijuana deserve to be listed in the same category as controlled substances posing extreme dangers to public health. The two aren't even in the same drug universe.
For years, the DEA has designated marijuana, along with heroin, ecstasy, LSD and peyote, as Schedule I controlled substances. "Schedule I drugs are considered the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological and/or physical dependence," the DEA says.
That not only ignores reality and makes almost no scientific sense, but in effect ties the hands of researchers looking for ways to expand the legitimate medicinal uses of marijuana. But last week the DEA reaffirmed marijuana's Schedule I classification, though it made it easier for research facilities to get permission to grow and study it.
Consider what the DEA classifies as Schedule II drugs less threatening than pot: the opioid drug fentanyl, which was behind the death of rock star Prince; cocaine; methamphetamine; and oxycodone — uniformly decried by U.S. officials as contributing to the nation's opioid and heroin addiction epidemic.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that in 2014, 4.176 million people in the U.S. "abused" marijuana. About 3 percent, or 138,000, sought treatment for dependency. That same year, the National Institutes of Health stated that 215 million Americans older than 18 reported having drunk alcohol, 16.3 million of whom acknowledged having alcohol use disorder. Despite an addiction rate far higher than marijuana, alcohol gets a pass under the DEA's standards.
Medicinal or recreational marijuana use is legal in 25 states. Alcohol and marijuana are the two most popular recreational intoxicants. The only difference is that any use of marijuana is labeled 100 percent of the time as "abuse" by the DEA, just like shooting up heroin. There's less science than superstition in this.
Exactly a century ago, this newspaper feverishly argued that prohibition of alcohol was a bad idea, driven as it was by one religious segment of society determined to impose its standards on the rest of Americans. We lost that argument.
Today, it's hard to tell what is driving opposition to rational marijuana laws, but the DEA's arbitrary Schedule I classification helps make rational debate difficult. Because federal law still bans marijuana use, it supersedes laws in states such as Colorado where pot can be sold in stores.
Money from pot sales cannot be deposited because Colorado banks can't risk running afoul of federal law. In states such as California, where medicinal use is allowed, some doctors hand out prescriptions like grocery store coupons.
Meanwhile, Mexican drug cartels engage in daily bloodbaths for control of marijuana smuggling routes into the U.S. We wonder, then, exactly whose interests is the DEA serving?
REPRINTED FROM THE ST LOUIS POST DISPATCH