Earlier this year, The World Health Organization published its first marijuana review. They stirred things up when they mentioned placing cannabis in a less restrictive schedule of the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The Food and Drug Administration reopened the comment period in response to the WHO’s recommendation.
The Control Act of 1970 created five schedules that had different levels of control. Since then, Marijuana has remained in the most restrictive schedule, Schedule I. There have been some minor exceptions, including approvals for products containing synthetic THC, but it hasn’t had much success. The FDA just recently approved marijuana- derived cannabidiol, known as CBD. It’s not potent like THC and seems to reduce pain, inflammation, and insomnia, without getting you high.
The FDA is known for shutting down non-compliant operations. America’s largest vertically integrated cannbis company, Curaleaf, received a lengthy warning letter from the FDA that threatened to shut down it’s operations. Curaleaf marketed its CBD products as dietary supplements to avoid regulation. CBD is an active ingredient in an FDA approved drug, and cannot be used as a dietary supplement. There would need to be an investigational new drug application to know the FDA is serious about trying to market cannabis products as medicine.
The Drug Enforcement Administration is responsible for setting controlled substance schedules. They work with the FDA to choose appropriate schedules for each drug. It seems like the DEA, the cannabis industry, and the FDA are stuck together in a bureaucratic triangle. The chances for cannabis to be placed in a less restrictive schedule aren’t promising, but it has improved in the last few years.