The Obama administration will keep marijuana on the list of the most dangerous drugs, despite growing popular support for legalization, but will allow more research into its possible medical benefits, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced Thursday.
The DEA's latest review of marijuana's classification was prompted by requests from the former governors of Rhode Island and Washington. They requested that marijuana be considered a Schedule II drug, along with cocaine, morphine and opium.
The DEA said the agency opted not to reclassify marijuana after a lengthy review and consultation with the Health and Human Services Department, which said marijuana "has a high potential for abuse" and "no accepted medical use."
"We are tethered to science and bound by statute," DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said Thursday.
The decision to keep marijuana in the same class of drugs as heroin and peyote comes amid growing national support for the legalization of marijuana. More than half the states have legalized the drug for either medicinal or recreational use.
The DEA said it plans to make it easier for researchers to study marijuana's possible medical benefits by expanding the number of entities that can legally grow marijuana for research purposes.
Currently only researchers at the University of Mississippi are allowed to grow marijuana, as part of a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Allowing for further research is the latest step forward in the federal government's evolving position on marijuana, although legalization advocates claim it doesn't go far enough.
The decision was announced in a lengthy notice in the Federal Register.
Thursday afternoon, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee released the following statement:
“I am disappointed that we don’t have a national standard for at least medical marijuana. Regardless, following the will of Washington state voters, we will continue to maintain a well-regulated adult-use marijuana system and continue to allow patients to have access for necessary medicinal purposes. A portion of revenues from the marijuana sales in our state goes toward treatment and youth prevention. I appreciate the DEA’s focus on youth prevention and for allowing more testing centers which will provide more medical research for more informed national policy decisions.
"As states continue to legalize medical and recreational marijuana across the country, there is more that the federal government must to do to provide states with legal certainty and empower the operation of safe systems across the country.”
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.