The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released a set of documents pertaining to its recommendation to move cannabis from Schedule I to III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The documents also encompass an in-depth evaluation conducted by the health agency regarding the acknowledged medical value of marijuana.
Included in the newly revealed materials are correspondences from HHS officials to DEA administrator Anne Milgram and the rationale behind the recommended reclassification, backed by an exhaustive eight-factor analysis mandated by the CSA. Despite the release, a significant portion of the pages is heavily censored, and some have been entirely withheld.
The documents became accessible online, courtesy of attorneys Shane Pennington and Matt Zorn, coauthors of the On Drugs blog. Zorn had previously submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain these records. In response, HHS scrutinized 252 pages, releasing only two pages in full. An additional 236 pages were partially redacted, and 14 were entirely withheld.
The disclosed documents broadly outline contemporary scientific findings that have emerged in recent years, after a previous denial of a petition to reschedule cannabis. HHS suggests that these developments may now warrant a reconsideration of cannabis scheduling.
The current examination primarily focuses on the modern scientific considerations surrounding currently accepted medical use (CAMU) for cannabis. It also delves into new epidemiological data regarding marijuana abuse, a perspective absent in the 2015 HHS evaluation of marijuana under the CSA’s eight-factor analysis.
HHS acknowledges the complexity of determining the abuse potential of cannabis, emphasizing that it involves multifaceted dimensions. The health agency underscores that there is no singular test or assessment that comprehensively characterizes the abuse potential, making it an intricate consideration.
HHS director of FOIA litigations and appeals, in a letter to Zorn, explained that redactions were made under a FOIA provision exempting intra-agency memoranda or letters not available by law to parties outside an agency engaged in litigation with the agency.
HHS had earlier released a highly redacted version of a one-page letter from the health agency to the DEA in response to public records requests by various entities, including lawyers and news organizations.
The attention has now shifted to the DEA, as it holds the rescheduling recommendation. While the Congressional Research Service (CRS) indicates a likelihood of the DEA following the HHS recommendation based on historical precedent, the DEA retains the authority to disregard the health agency’s advice due to its final jurisdiction over the CSA.
Marijuana businesses such as Cronos Group Inc. (NASDAQ: CRON) (TSX: CRON) are likely to analyze those released documents in order to glean insights into the possible policy direction that may emerge over the coming years.
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