Better count Hall County resident Katie Harrison among the millions of Americans stung by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s decision on Thursday to keep marijuana on a list of the most dangerous drugs, despite growing popular support for legalization and medicinal use.
“The (government) has chosen to ignore the clear evidence and research that shows marijuana does have medical benefit,” she said. “But we aren’t just fighting the DEA. We have the big pharmaceutical companies, tobacco, alcohol and prison systems all against us, as well.”
The DEA said the agency opted not to reclassify marijuana after a lengthy review and consultation with the Health and Human Services Department, which said marijuana “has a high potential for abuse” and “no accepted medical use.”
“We are tethered to science and bound by statute,” DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said Thursday.
But more and more the science is showing how beneficial marijuana can be in treating a variety of illnesses, from seizures to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Earlier this year, for example, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the rate of death related to painkillers is 25 percent lower on average in states where medical marijuana use is legal compared with states where it remains prohibited.
More than half the states have legalized the drug for either medicinal or recreational use.
Cannabis oil, for example, is allowed in Georgia.
It is derived from the marijuana bud, is known to have anti-anxiety effects, among other beneficial properties, and strains lack the levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC that gets smokers intoxicated.
Harrison said cannabis oil has lifted her son out of the “zombie fog” that blurred his cognition, appetite and social interaction.
And the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics have called for rescheduling the drug to conduct more research on its medicinal value.
The fact that marijuana is currently listed as a Schedule I drug on par with heroin “makes no sense,” according to Richard Haines, a Denver resident and founder/CEO of MDherb, a mobile application for medicinal marijuana patients.
Haines, who uses medicinal marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease, which causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, is originally from Atlanta and has worked locally to educate and lobby for medical marijuana use.
The alternative is a continuation of prescription painkiller abuse, which has killed more than 165,000 Americans since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is less regulated than marijuana.
The DEA said it plans to make it easier for researchers to study marijuana’s possible medical benefits by expanding the number of entities that can legally grow marijuana for research purposes.
Currently only researchers at the University of Mississippi are allowed to grow marijuana, as part of a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Allowing for further research is the latest step forward in the federal government’s evolving position on marijuana, although legalization advocates claim it doesn’t go far enough.
Harrison said she hopes Congress will take action to supersede the DEA’s authority.
And Jeremy Sharp, a student at the University of North Georgia who founded the Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter, called the DEA’s decision “disheartening, at best.”
“This decision by the DEA will certainly make it harder for these children to access cannabis medicinally,” he added. “But patients are not the only ones who will be hurt by this. Researchers still face great hurdles in obtaining permission to use cannabis in studies due to its Schedule 1 status.”
The DEA’s latest review of marijuana’s classification was prompted by requests from the former governors of Rhode Island and Washington.
They requested that marijuana be considered a Schedule II drug, along with cocaine, morphine and opium, which would pave the way for more research and possible decriminalization.
Jeremy Galloway, a Dahlonega resident and former heroin addict, said the DEA’s decision reflects its involvement in the increasingly unpopular “War on Drugs.”
“I'm not a fan of comparing drugs against each other as justification for changing their scheduling,” he said. “But I think it's ridiculous that, given all the evidence to the contrary, the federal government would continue to classify cannabis as having no recognized medical uses.
“Much of the medical community, the general public and countless people of all ages who have benefited from access to medical cannabis are fortunate that their states and doctors pay attention to what science and medicine is telling us.”
Galloway works in what is known as the “harm reduction” community, advocating for less punitive measures to combat drug addiction, with a focus on treatment and recovery over incarceration.
He has helped train and equip methadone clinics and drug rehabilitation programs across North Georgia with naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
“It’s further proof that reforms to this country’s regressive drug policies, and repairs to the damage they’ve caused, will have to come from ordinary people,” he said of the DEA’s decision.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.