DEA Punts the Ball, Now What?

By Daniel Isenstein

Although disappointing, the recent recommendation by the DEA that cannabis not be reclassified to Schedule II was by no means a surprise.  While the states that have passed marijuana law reforms do not appear to be suffering from the chaos, gloom and doom that legalization opponents predicted, federal officials still lay claim to the position that “not enough empirical evidence” has been generated to warrant the potential public safety threat. 

So what is the motivation for the DEA recommendation and what is the potential impact to this emerging industry.

To begin with asking the DEA to make a recommendation regarding the rescheduling of marijuana is like asking the pharmaceutical industry to cure cancer.  That defeats the purpose of the industry because the profits are in maintenance medication and universal vaccinations, not cures.  The DEA is a law enforcement agency, part of the incarceration industry and marijuana violators are their bestselling product.  The better question to ask is, “Why would the DEA threaten their own livelihoods and issue a recommendation that essentially invalidates their justification for being?”

The second major motivation is tied to the influence of big business on our government.  The story of DuPont’s development of artificial fibers and the demise of the hemp industry are well documented, starting in Jack Herer’s groundbreaking book Emperor Wears No Clothes.  The same industrial juggernaut that helped usher in the prohibition era is not going to let go without a fight.

In this case it is the pharmaceutical industry and agribusiness that hold the keys to ending cannabis prohibition.  The pharmaceutical companies will oppose anything that undermines their profit model.  Smoking a plant you can grow in your backyard is much cheaper than getting multiple prescriptions filled.  And cannabis has fewer side effects. Their agenda regarding cannabis ultimately is more about protecting profits and market share than in helping sick people.  They are beholden to their stock holders, not their customers.

Agribusiness, wants time to develop and patent seed strains that are genetically stable and produce plants with consistent properties.    

Ultimately, all this legal wrangling and drama is about a plant that individuals can grow for themselves.  Much as there exists within the adult beverage industry, where there is a burgeoning home brewing and wine making industry, the introduction of commercial cannabis products will not prevent people who desire to grow on their own.  There will continue to be a subculture of people who take it upon themselves to selectively breed and develop strains on their own.  There will continue to be hobby shops that help support the endeavors of these people.

In hindsight the idea that the DEA would have done anything other than “punt” on this decision was wishful thinking.  With the upcoming elections in November they wanted an excuse to figure out which path the federal government will take towards deescalating the prohibition of cannabis.  Should polling trends continue and Hillary Clinton is elected President, she has already stated her support for rescheduling medical marijuana.  2017 already looks brighter.

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