Brookings Institute Report Denounces War on Drugs

Published on October 28, 2015 · Last updated July 28, 2020

The Brookings Institute, one of the most prolific research and education nonprofit associations in the U.S., has come forward in favor of ending the War of Drugs.

Entitled “Ending the U.S. government’s war on medical marijuana research,” the 21-page report examines the problems and inconsistencies set forward by the U.S. government that hinder medical marijuana research and leave well-meaning scientists, legislators and medical professionals with their hands tied.

The report highlights the problems with the current Controlled Substances Act, which classifies marijuana as Schedule I, meaning that the substance has no “accepted medical use.” For reference, several Schedule II substances with “accepted medical use” include cocaine, methamphetamine, and oxycodone – all drugs with an arguably more significant risk for abuse and addiction, and yet in a category with fewer restrictions on research and federal funding.

While rescheduling cannabis into a Schedule II or III class drug would certainly be a step in the right direction, as the report points out, “rescheduling would not suddenly legalize marijuana.” It would, however, open the doors to medical research. As it is currently classified, in order for an organization to get permission for federally funded scientific research, one must go through a multi-agency registration and review process.

Researchers must apply with the Food and Drug Administration’s Investigational New Drug (IND) program, and must undergo an additional three-step National Institute of Health (NIH) review for any funding or support from the NIH. They must also obtain a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to possess cannabis for research purposes, and, as if these steps weren’t complicated enough, they must finally submit their proposal to the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) to request that NIDA supply the drugs to be studied.

Is it any wonder at all that there isn’t more scientifically valid, federally funded research available on the benefits and uses of marijuana for medicinal purposes?

The authors of the report, John Hudak and Grace Wallack, who are researchers from the Center for Effective Public Management, have done an exemplary job of breaking down the multitude of challenges faced by anyone hoping to make a major change to cannabis policy.

Reschedule Cannabis

Rescheduling cannabis is just the first step. There have been four petitions to reschedule cannabis, starting in 1972 with a petition from National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which was not even considered until 1986 and ultimately rejected in 1994. Another petition was filed in 1995 and rejected in 2001, and a third petition submitted in 2002 was rejected in 2011. The most recent petition was filed in 2011 by Governor Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and recent presidential hopeful Lincoln Chafee (D-RI), which is still under consideration.

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End the NIDA Monopoly

According to the report, the next best step would be to end the DEA-mandated NIDA monopoly. The National Institute for Drug Abuse has held the one and only legal federal license to produce marijuana for federally-approved studies for nearly 40 years. Since 1968, the University of Mississippi has been the sole producer of cannabis used for federal research purposes, which is problematic for a number of reasons.

Being the sole source of cannabis for all research means that it may take years to produce high-quality grade cannabis for research, particularly from only one farm with only one environment. As anyone with cultivation knowledge is aware, there are many factors that play into cultivating the right strain properly, and even the slightest change can alter an entire harvest, with potency varying from crop to crop and even from plant to plant.

The DEA has the freedom to, and one might even say the responsibility to expand the number of licenses available to cultivate cannabis for federal research. In fact, the demand for cannabis research has grown so much that the U.S. government requested nearly 300 percent more cannabis this year for research purposes than ever before.

Expand the Compassionate Investigative New Drug Program

The report's next recommendation is to expand the Compassionate Investigative New Drug (IND) program. What once began as a federal investigation into the medical use of marijuana for glaucoma in 1976 slowly dissolved over the years, with the number of patients dwindling down to just four individuals as of 2014.

In order to make a legal federal market exist, the next logical step would be for the Food and Drug Administration to allow for licensing and certification for legal medical cannabis companies. Of course, the only way to achieve such a high-level goal means that the entire structure of the system would need to be changed from within – the DEA and the FDA would need a complete policy overhaul that acknowledges the legal status of cannabis and regulates it accordingly.

Whoever is the next person to be voted into the office of presidency will have a huge opportunity to make this implementation a reality. Therefore, the next presidential election in November 2016 could impact the entire future of our country for cannabis. If you’re not already up to date, check out our guide to the 2016 presidential candidates to see where they stand on cannabis and how they will represent your interests. Next November is on the horizon, so be sure to #JustSayKnow before you vote.

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Lisa Rough
Lisa Rough
Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.
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