Congress And The DEA Share The Blame For Marijuana’s Mystifying Misclassification

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A narrower, harm-based definition of abuse would suggest that marijuana is not comparable to Schedule II drugs such as fentanyl, PCP, and methamphetamine. Nor is its potential for abuse “high” compared to those of Schedule III substances such as the anesthetic ketamine or the narcotic buprenorphine, or Schedule IV substances such as the benzodiazepine Rohypnol, the barbiturate phenobarbital, or the opioid painkiller Tramadol. Under the CSA, drugs in those categories are supposed to have lower abuse potential than drugs in Schedule I or II.

Schedule III, by the way, includes Marinol, which contains a synthetic version of THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient. The FDA’s report to the DEA, which the DEA published in the Federal Register along with its response to the rescheduling petitions, defends that inconsistency, arguing that orally ingested THC has less abuse potential than marijuana because recreational users prefer smoking pot. “The delayed onset and longer duration of action for Marinol may be contributing factors limiting the abuse or appeal of Marinol as a drug of abuse relative to marijuana,” the FDA says. Never mind that THC-treated foods have proven very popular in states where marijuana is legal, or that critics of those products say the same factors the FDA thinks reduce abuse potential make edibles especially dangerous.

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