Federal Scientists Recommend Easing Restrictions on Marijuana

Federal Scientists Recommend Easing Restrictions on Marijuana

Marijuana is neither as risky nor as prone to abuse as other tightly controlled substances and has potential medical benefits, and therefore should be removed from the nation’s most restrictive category of drugs, federal scientists have concluded.

The recommendations are contained in a 250-page scientific review provided to Matthew Zorn, a Texas lawyer who sued Health and Human Services officials for its release and published it online on Friday night. An H.H.S. official confirmed the authenticity of the document.

The records shed light for the first time on the thinking of federal health officials who are pondering a momentous change. The agencies involved have not publicly commented on their debates over what amounts to a decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level.

Since 1970, marijuana has been considered a so-called Schedule I drug, a category that also includes heroin. Schedule I drugs have no medical use and a high potential for abuse, and they carry severe criminal penalties under federal trafficking laws.

The documents show that scientists at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration make marijuana a Schedule III drug, alongside the likes of ketamine and testosterone, which are available by prescription.

The review by federal scientists found that even though marijuana is the most frequently abused illicit drug, “it does not produce serious outcomes compared to drugs in Schedules I or II.”

Marijuana abuse does lead to physical dependence, the analysis noted, and some people develop a psychological dependence. “But the likelihood of serious outcomes is low,” the review concluded.

The review also said there is some “scientific support” for therapeutic uses of marijuana, including treatment of anorexia, pain, and nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy.

Federal officials cautioned that their analysis was not meant to suggest that they had established the safety and effectiveness of marijuana in a way that would support F.D.A. approval, only that data supported some medical uses of marijuana.

These conclusions apparently led the F.D.A. to break from decades of precedent and advise the Drug Enforcement Administration to recategorize marijuana, a move reported in August by Bloomberg News.

That recommendation is being considered by the D.E.A., which is expected to formally announce its decision within months. The reclassification will be subject to public comment and debate before it is made final.