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All eyes on the DEA

The Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a new prescription anti-seizure medication derived from cannabis just might be the nudge another federal agency needs to reclassify marijuana and allow more research into its potential benefits — and risks.

The FDA on Monday approved the new drug, Epidiolex, to treat two rare forms of epilepsy that cause severe seizures. The medication contains cannabidiol (CBD), one of the two main components of cannabis. The other, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), produces the “high” sought by recreational marijuana users. CBD does not.

Despite this step by the FDA, the Drug Enforcement Agency continues to list marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, on the grounds that it has a high potential for abuse and no known medical use.

Before Epidiolex can be sold, the DEA must reclassify CBD. The agency has 90 days to decide. A great deal of money rides on the decision.

It should not escape the Trump administration’s notice that the profits from the new drug would go not to an American company but to GW Pharmaceuticals, the British firm that developed it. American drug manufacturers cannot do the kind of research and development that GW did because federal law bars them from growing marijuana for research purposes.

Although 29 states have legalized medical marijuana and nine have legalized recreational use by adults, much is unknown about marijuana’s effects and its medical potential. The DEA should reclassify marijuana and allow this country’s scientific and business communities to find the answers to those questions.

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