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The drug enforcement administration has refused to loosen controls on marijuana. That's a setback for advocates who want to legalize the drug. The Obama administration says it will open up new ways to make marijuana research easier. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Two Democratic governors had asked the DEA to change the way it handles marijuana under drug control laws. They wanted the feds to move it out of the most tightly restricted category, where it resides along with LSD and heroin. DEA leader Chuck Rosenberg says that's not going to happen.
CHUCK ROSENBERG: Well, marijuana is not as dangerous as heroin, for instance - clearly not as dangerous - but this decision isn't based on danger. This decision is based on whether or not marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine, and it's not.
JOHNSON: At least not now. Rosenberg says his agency does support legitimate research, and it could change its mind based on science. In fact, he says, more than 350 people are registered to research marijuana, and many human studies are under way.
ROSENBERG: Imagine that - the DEA permitting smoked marijuana studies on human subjects. But we do, and there's a simple reason - science rules. We will be bound by the science. We have to be.
TAYLOR WEST: The DEA's decision on this really flies in the face of objective science about the benefits of medical marijuana.
JOHNSON: That's Taylor West. She's with the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group for more than 1,000 businesses operating legally under state law. She points out more than half the states have enough confidence in the science to have legalized some form of marijuana for medical purposes. And West says the federal government is behind the times.
WEST: The reality is that patients are benefiting across the country and, frankly, around the world. And that's why states and voters are moving forward on these measures.
JOHNSON: Kevin Sabet, a former Obama drug policy adviser, says there was a lot of money at stake.
KEVIN SABET: It is a very bad day if you're in the marijuana industry. And if there was a big marijuana stock index today, it would have crashed.
JOHNSON: Sabet now works for a group that opposes marijuana legalization. He says the DEA deserves credit for opening up new avenues for research. The agency says it will license more institutions to cultivate marijuana for scientific studies. Currently, only in the University of Mississippi is recognized by the U.S. to do that. Marijuana advocates who want the federal government to take bolder steps will have to turn to Congress. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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