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The Week Ahead: DEA Serves Dose of Arresting Irony

The Week Ahead is Monterey Bud’s weekly column focusing down on the most pressing cannabis policies, issues and discussions. Each Monday, Monterey Bud brings his voice to comment on the marijuana industry and the politics of cannabis from the perspective of a weed apostle. Today, Monterey Bud examines the Drug Enforcement Agency’s increased cannabis production quota and its legacy as Nixon’s tool in the war on drugs.

Here’s something to mull over for the week: What does it mean when the agency tasked with combating drug use requests the production and research of more cannabis?

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced a rather stunning about-face on Aug. 23, 2018. In addition to increasing the amount of research-grade cannabis that can be grown in the US for scientific purposes in both 2018 and 2019, the anti-narcotics agency has also committed to reducing the production of opioids.

The DEA’s recent notice in the Federal Register will allow for greater scientific scrutiny and will increase the overall production for 2018 of marijuana from 443.68 kilograms, or 978 pounds, to 1,140.216 kilos, or 2,514 pounds, — a dramatic increase of 157 percent.

The updated 2018 aggregate production quota for cannabis is meant to provide the DEA with sufficient quantities of the plant’s compounds for scientific scrutiny into potential medical applications and for “the establishment and maintenance of reserve stocks.” According to the agency’s August 16, 2018, press release, the increased quotas “reflects the total amount of controlled substances necessary to meet the country’s medical, scientific, research, industrial, and export needs for the year.”

A potential reason for the DEA’s push for more marijuana is the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018. Introduced by Democratic-Farmer-Labor Minnesota US Rep. Timothy Walz, if passed, HR 5520 would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct research on the medicinal efficacy and safety of medical marijuana.

“We lost too many lives to the opioid epidemic and families and communities suffer tragic consequences every day,” acting administrator Uttam Dhillon wrote in the press release. The agencies proposed quotas will be open for public comment until September 24, 2018.

It is near impossible to ignore the irony of the DEA, created by President Richard Nixon as a tool for his war on drugs, calling for the increase in cannabis production and research, given the agency’s history.

Nixon’s DEA

Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970, cannabis was “temporarily” classified as a Schedule I narcotic. That same year, Nixon appointed Republican Pennsylvania Gov. of Raymond P. Shafer chair of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse (since known as the Shafer Commission) to study the plant in order to permanently identify its classification. The bipartisan commission of elected officials, physicians, and attorneys scrutinized cannabis for nearly two years.

Nixon assumed the Republican-led commission would back his cynical attempt to criminalize the herb and permanently prohibit marijuana. Much to Nixon’s chagrin, the Shafer Commission, titled “Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding,” concluded that “effective discouragement policy does not require making private possession of marijuana a crime nor does it recommend putting its users in jail.”

Nixon ignored the report’s findings and recommendations to pursue an aggressive war on cannabis. Later, Nixon founded the DEA in July 1973, and declared “an all-out global war on the drug menace.”

Meanwhile, the prejudicial legacy of Nixon lives on in infamy to this very day.

The Legacy of Tricky Dick’s Policy

The DEA’s all-out war on cannabis has since created a serious discrepancy in America’s marijuana arrests rates.

“In the states with the worst disparities, blacks were on average over six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites,” noted a 2013 report published by the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2016, the New York Police Department arrested 18,136 people for marijuana possession. Of those arrested for marijuana in New York City during 2016, 46 percent were African-American, 39 percent were Hispanic, 10 percent were Caucasian, and 5 percent were of unknown or unidentified ethnicity, according to Politico.

These arrest rates aren’t exclusive to urban areas; they affect rural regions as well. Data compiled by the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Reporting program indicate that Wyoming, New Jersey, South Dakota, New Hampshire, and Missouri have the highest per-capita arrest rates for marijuana per 100,000 people.

  • Wyoming arrest rates: 415 per 100,000
  • New Jersey: 400 per 100,000
  • South Dakota: 383 per 100,000
  • New Hampshire: 376 per 100,000
  • Missouri: 370 per 100,000

For Nixon, prohibition was a political tool to rally the GOP base as he cultivated his new brand of racial injustice to incarcerate and harass his political enemies.

In May 1971, as Nixon was preparing to crank up his drug message for his 1972 campaign for re-election, a conversation with Chief of Staff Bob Halderman revealed Nixon’s predisposition to use marijuana as a means of silencing his opposition. Nixon told Haldeman, “I want a goddamn strong statement about marijuana … I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them.”

What The DEA’s Increased Production Quota May Mean to Medical Marijuana and Nixon’s Legacy

The DEA in 2016 allowed the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to offer additional cultivators licenses after many researchers have complained about the difficulty of getting high-quality, federally approved cannabis to research. After two years of inaction, Marijuana Moment’s Tom Angell speculates the increase in production for scientific research may be a sign that additional grower applications will eventually get approved.  

This increase may mean that federal agencies such as the NIDA and the DEA are preparing to drill down on the therapeutic applications of the plant’s many terpenes and cannabinoids.

Certainly, this doesn’t vindicate the DEA’s actions in Nixon’s crusade against America’s past cannabis users, but this could be a small, positive step in helping generations of future cannabis users access the plant without fear of prosecution and discrimination.

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