A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) proposal to reclassify the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana as a Schedule III substance would allow pharmaceutical companies to market the drug while still penalizing common recreational use, according to marijuana law reform advocates.
The main psychoactive chemical in marijuana, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is currently a Schedule I substance within the US Controlled Substances Act, the most restrictive schedule with the greatest criminal penalties.
In November 2010, the DEA proposed reclassifying dronabinol, a synthetic THC, as a Schedule III substance, which would place it among substances such as hydrocodone and allow it to be dispensed with a written or oral prescription.
"The DEA's intent is to expand the federal government's schedule III listing to include pharmaceutical products containing naturally derived formations of THC while simultaneously maintain existing criminal prohibitions on the plant itself," Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), wrote at AlterNet.
With its proposal, the DEA is responding to the demands of large pharmaceutical companies, he claimed.
Marijuana plants and THC extracts would remain illegal under the proposal, but companies would be able to purchase THC from a government-licensed provider to develop pharmaceutical products.
"While the DEA's forthcoming regulatory change promises to stimulate the advent of legally available, natural THC therapeutic products... the change will offer no legal relief for those hundreds of thousands of Americans who believe that therapeutic relief is best obtained by use of the whole plant itself," Armentano added.
"Rather the DEA appears content to try to walk a political and semantic tightrope that alleges: 'pot is bad,' but 'pot-derived pharmaceuticals are good.'"
THC can help cancer patients regain their appetites and sense of taste, according to a study published on Wednesday.
"This is the first randomized controlled trial to show that THC makes food taste better and improves appetites for patients with advanced cancer, as well as helping them to sleep and to relax better," Dr. Wendy Wismer, associate professor at the University of Alberta, said. "Our findings are important, as there is no accepted treatment for chemosensory alterations experienced by cancer patients."
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to legalize the medical use of marijuana.
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