“You want to know what this was really all about?” Nixon aid John Ehrlichman told journalist Dan Baum in 1994, according to an article published in Harper’s Magazine in 2016. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The DEA denied a petition to reschedule again in 2011, citing a lack of available research specifically on smoked marijuana in the U.S.
Researchers say this represents a classic catch-22, as the paucity of research is the direct result of a federal blockade on such research by the DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Researchers note that about two dozen countries including Israel, Canada and the Netherlands as well as several legalization states such as California and Colorado, have reams of scientific data on the safety and efficacy of smoked cannabis as well as other formulations. While NIDA’s primary work focuses largely on studies involving drug abuse and addiction, the organization does fund some research on therapeutic uses for THC as well.
Many physicians are also frustrated by the DEA’s apparent intransigence in the face of mounting evidence and interest. In 2009 the American Medical Association recommended the DEA review marijuana’s Schedule I status.
In 2014 lawmakers blasted DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart on the floor of Congress for failing to reply to questions about whether or not heroin was more or less dangerous than marijuana, which is also often used to treat pain. Both are Schedule I—yet cannabis has no obtainable lethal overdose threshold whereas 19,000 Americans died from prescription opioid overdoses in 2014 alone. Earlier this year a researcher at The Brookings Institution called for emergency rescheduling of cannabis to save American lives. All 2016 presidential candidates have vowed to either honor state-level medical legalization, reschedule cannabis or unschedule it entirely. “I think the federal government has forfeited any claim to credibility around cannabis,” Martin Lee, author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana.