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Marijuana: DEA takes nine months to brush off Colorado's reschedule-pot request

High-profile media organizations have started floating the idea of rescheduling marijuana as a way of bridging the gap between federal law and Colorado's in the wake of Amendment 64's passage. As we noted Wednesday, Colorado asked DEA administrator Michele Leonhart to consider doing so this past December. Now we know the DEA's response -- no -- and the amount of time it took the agency to deliver it -- around nine months. Documents below.

Some background: Even though eighteen states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing marijuana to be used for medical purposes, the DEA considers the substance to be a Schedule I narcotic -- meaning that it offers no known or acknowledged medical benefit. Other Schedule I narcotics include heroin, whereas Schedule II lists the likes of cocaine and opium -- drugs pretty much everyone with a working brain understands to be much more dangerous than cannabis, although Leonhart refused to acknowledge it during questioning by Colorado Representative Jared Polis at a Congressional hearing this past June. Colorado officials were required to ask the federal government to consider moving marijuana to a different schedule by the signing into law of House Bill 1284, which set up a regulatory system for medical marijuana in the state. Obeying a passage in the legislation, Director of Revenue Barbara Brohl sent a letter to Leonhart on December 22, 2011; see it below.

Joseph Rannazzisi.
Joseph Rannazzisi.

The DEA's reply was a long time coming. The documents shared with us by the Department of Revenue are stamped with two dates: September 6 and October 10, with the latter supplemented by the word "received." Moreover, they weren't written by Leonhart. Instead, she appears to have farmed out this duty to Joseph Rannazzisi, the deputy assistant administrator for the DEA's Office of Diversion Control. And there's something else strange about the letters, both shared in this post. Although the text is identical in each, the signatures are different. Continue for more about the DEA's response to Colorado's letter about rescheduling marijuana, including original documents. Here's the signature from the first letter:

Marijuana: DEA takes nine months to brush off Colorado's reschedule-pot request

And here's the second signature.

Marijuana: DEA takes nine months to brush off Colorado's reschedule-pot request

The lack of similarity from one to the other suggests that the first letter was signed by an underling, while Rannazzisi may have actually scribbled on the latter -- although that's speculation. What's not up for debate, though, is the content of the brief missives, which are dominated by statements about current policy and information intended to support it as opposed to actual consideration of Colorado's argument. The opening paragraph notes that the DEA will be "evaluating" a prior request to reschedule marijuana by two governors, Washington's Christine Gregoire and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee. From there, Rannazzisi writes:

"It should be noted that the levels of marijuana use in the United States are steadily increasing. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 17.4 million Americans aged 12 years and older reported using marijuana in the past month. In 2010, approximately 2.4 million Americans aged 12 years and older used marijuana for the first time, which is an average of approximately 6,600 new users every day. According to the 2011 Monitoring the Future report, the number of current users of marijuana among 8th, 10th and 12th graders was at peak levels, the highest since 2002. In 2011, daily marijuana use markedly increased among all three grade levels compared to 2009 data."

Critics of federal marijuana policy will recognize this approach as the save-the-children tack used by the federal government for many years. Activists counter that rescheduling marijuana would have no effect on its availability to children. Rannazzisi then goes on to site figures suggesting a "sharp rise" in the number of emergency room visits related to marijuana -- factors that "contribute to the significant strain of marijuana use on our healthcare system" that "pose a considerable threat to the health and safety of the users, their families, and the communities as a whole." He closes by reiterating, as if anyone was confused, that "under Federal law, marijuana remains a Schedule I substance with no currently accepted medical use." Continue to see the two versions of the DEA responses to Colorado's rescheduling-marijuana request, the original Colorado letter and the DEA's schedule of controlled substances.

DEA Marijuana Reclassification Response Version 1
DEA Marijuana Reclassification Response Version 2
Mmed Letter to Dea
DEA Controlled Substances Schedule

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: DEA rescheduling-of-pot idea as Amendment 64 fix hits mainstream."


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