DEA dismissed its own misconceptions about pot, group says

By Bob Egelko for the San Francisco Chronicle

Defending the government’s classification of marijuana as one of the most dangerous drugs, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration declares on its website that pot causes mental illness and lung cancer and leads youths to heroin and cocaine.
But an advocacy group says the DEA, in a legal filing in August, said it found no evidence to support any of those conclusions. The group, Americans for Safe Access, has asked the agency to remove discredited claims from its Web page.

“We have taken this action to stop the DEA’s relentless campaign of misinformation about the health risks of medical cannabis,” said Menlo Park attorney Vickie Feeman, who represents Americans for Safe Access. She said the agency’s public statements, and its “refusal to ... acknowledge the scientifically proven benefits of medical cannabis,” are harming patients around the country.
“This is something President Obama can correct before he leaves office,” the group said in a statement. It indicated it would file suit if the agency refuses to remove the statements. The DEA declined to comment.
The agency, part of the Justice Department, classifies marijuana, along with heroin, LSD and ecstasy, as dangerous drugs with a high potential for abuse and no legitimate medical use, making possession a crime under federal law. Proposals to shift marijuana into the same classification as methamphetamine and cocaine, which can be legally prescribed, have been rejected by successive administrations, most recently by the Obama administration in August.
In a petition to the DEA last Monday, Americans for Safe Access said the agency’s website contains more than two dozen statements about marijuana that may have had some scientific support when they were first posted years ago but are no longer credible. They include assertions that:

  • “Marijuana use can worsen depression and lead to more serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and even suicide.”
  • According to one study, “smoking one cannabis cigarette increases the chances of developing lung cancer by as much as an entire packet of 20 cigarettes.”
  • Youngsters who use marijuana are “15 times more likely to use heroin later in life.”

Youngsters who use marijuana are “15 times more likely to use heroin later in life.”
The advocacy group said the DEA itself undermined each of those statements in August in a filing in which the agency refused to reclassify marijuana but rejected some previous misconceptions.
In that filing, the agency said numerous studies showed that marijuana users were no more likely than nonusers to suffer mental illness. It also said that smoking marijuana could cause health problems but that recent studies have found little evidence of any connection with lung cancer. And it said research “does not support a direct causal relationship between regular marijuana use and other illicit drug use.”

Meanwhile, the advocacy group said, the DEA has kept its earlier contradictory statements on its website, where they may influence members of Congress who are considering legislation to reclassify marijuana and bar federal interference with states that allow medical use of the drug.
For example, the petition said, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said at a June 2015 hearing of the Senate Drug Caucus that marijuana is “a gateway drug” whose users “go on to other things.”
Asked whether Feinstein still holds that view, spokesman Ross Townsend said Friday that the senator has introduced a bill to expand medical marijuana research but “still has concerns about negative effects of recreational use,” which California voters legalized last month.
Feinstein “is particularly concerned about the proliferation of stoned drivers, increased youth access to marijuana and the effects of increasingly high THC levels,” Townsend said, referring to the ingredient that causes most of marijuana’s psychological effects.