Though a majority of states have legalized some form of marijuana use, it remains a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level.
That means under federal law marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use" and a high potential for abuse. But U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., asserts the label comes with even more restrictions.
Addressing her desire to make marijuana more available for American veterans, Baldwin said she is frustrated that marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, "which is considered a drug with no beneficial characteristics at all, and therefore should not be researched or prescribed."
She said research is a key reason she wants to see marijuana removed from Schedule 1.
"So we lost, since that scheduling occurred, more than a generation of possible research to see safety, efficacy, etc.," Baldwin said in a Sept. 14, 2018, interview on "Devil’s Advocates," a Milwaukee-based liberal radio talk show. "So, (the) No. 1 outrage to me is that we don’t have the body of research in this country — the leading research-funding nation in the world — that would give answers to things we kind of ponder about."
We gave Baldwin a Mostly False rating for another marijuana claim from that interview -- that medical providers with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are "censored" from talking with veterans about marijuana.
Let’s see how this claim fares.
What does Schedule 1 mean?
Schedule 1 is the highest, most restrictive rating given to drugs in the federal code. Marijuana is joined on that list by heroin, ecstasy, LSD and opioid painkillers, among many others.
The designation complicates matters for federal agencies such as the VA, which is limited by federal guidelines that conflict with state laws. Thirty-three states have now approved medical marijuana, and 10 of those allow recreational use as well, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Baldwin’s staff did not respond to inquiries seeking evidence for her claim that the Schedule 1 designation means marijuana "should not be researched."
In fact, there are hundreds of current research studies involving marijuana, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"One of the biggest misconceptions is that Schedule I status of a drug makes it impossible for research. This is simply not true," said Wade Sparks, a DEA spokesman. "Schedule I research is absolutely permitted with a proper registration."
Aspiring researchers must get their research protocol approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, then apply for a DEA permit to handle, store and research marijuana or any other Schedule 1 drug. Sparks said security is typically a key hurdle, since the DEA must ensure research protocol is followed and drugs are properly secured.
"Every researcher who has put forth a valid research proposal has received permission to study marijuana," Sparks said.
Researchers must also work with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which contracts with the University of Mississippi to grow marijuana for research — the only legal research source of marijuana in the country. And there are U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements for research that is related to the development of new drugs.
There are currently 449 researchers registered with the DEA to study marijuana, and 249 registered for research of other Schedule 1 drugs, Sparks said.
Indeed, much of that research is funded by the federal government.
The National Institutes of Health approved about $269 million for hundreds of marijuana-related research projects in 2018. That includes projects focused on therapeutic properties of marijuana, including cannabidiol, which has potential medical benefits but doesn’t cause users to get high.
"In the last few years with the growth of information — both popular information and scientific information — on possible medical marijuana efficacy, there have been more studies approved by the federal government and funded by the federal government" on the potential therapeutic benefits of the drug, said Igor Grant, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California-San Diego. "The climate is changing."
Making the case to remove marijuana from Schedule 1 status, Baldwin said that standing means marijuana "should not be researched." She said a "generation" of possible research has been lost as a result.
Schedule 1 status does add additional hurdles for researchers, including approval from the DEA. But research is allowed and does happen — to the tune of more than 400 studies nationwide.
So the statement has an element of truth but otherwise misses the mark.
Our rating for that is Mostly False.
Real Resistance Radio, appearance by Tammy Baldwin (13 min mark), Sept. 14, 2018
Email exchange with Wade Sparks, spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Nov. 5-13, 2018
National Conference of State Legislatures, State Medical Marijuana Laws, Nov. 7, 2018
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Drug Scheduling, accessed Nov. 13, 2018
Email exchange with Curt Cashour, press secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Nov. 5, 2018
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Marijuana Research with Human Subjects, Accessed Nov. 13, 2018
National Institutes of Health, Estimates of Funding for Various Research, Condition, and Disease Categories (RCDC), May 18, 2018
Interview with Igor Grant, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California-San Diego, Nov. 14, 2018
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