The DEA’s new marijuana regulations will hurt children and the disabled most

After some deliberation, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officially labeled cannabidiol hemp oil and marijuana extract oils as federally illegal Schedule I drugs. Despite the cannabis-based oils’ proven healing effects on various severe diseases with minimal health detriments, the DEA’s decision places the drug in the same category as dangerous, sometimes fatal drugs, like heroin and ecstasy, and renders safe, legal access to the medical cannabis products even more difficult. Worse yet, the DEA’s new marijuana regulations will hurt children and the disabled the most.

Cannabidiol hemp oil (CBD) is often used to treat children with epilepsy, and many other cannabis-based medicines have been linked with treating paralysis and are commonly used by individuals with physical disabilities. Many people with suffering from neuropathic pain from paralysis are able to find relief from medical marijuana they can’t find anywhere else. The DEA’s latest decision will affect children, families, and people with disabilities across the nation more than any other group.

Much is made of the deeply racist and classist implications of the War on Drugs, which, after all, was rooted in the federal government’s desire to subjugate poor black communities and continues to disproportionately harm them, to this day. But criminalizing marijuana-based medicines, as the DEA has just announced its intent to do, has ableist consequences as well.

Earlier this year, ATTN: reported on how families calling themselves “marijuana refugees” from the 16 states in the U.S. where medical marijuana still is not legal are often forced to travel really far to access treatment for their children with epilepsy. Despite medical marijuana’s proven ability to help physically impaired people, Chuck Rosenberg, acting chief of the Drug Administration, has called the concept of marijuana-based medication healing the disabled “a joke.”

“It’s difficult to hear politicians decide my fate without any real research. They so easily can make a decision opposing medical marijuana without knowing what many people are going through every day,” Rachelle Friedman, a quadriplegic since 2010, wrote for The Mobility Report in 2014. “Where is the compassion or even just some simple logic?”

Similarly, back in October, the Food and Drug Administration released to the public a list of bizarre reasons it refused to acknowledge marijuana as medicine, identifying it as dangerous despite minimal scientific evidence of its purported addictiveness and the simple fact that it is literally nowhere near the societal and public health hazard of alcohol or tobacco. The FDA claimed marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use” as well as a “high potential for abuse.”

Hand Holding Small Marijuana Leaf with Cannabis Plants in Background
CREDIT: OpenRangeStock/iStock

The FDA cited how marijuana is mostly smoked rather than taken as a pill to liken it to cocaine, opium, and heroin, and also noted how some of its potential effects, such as “increased merriment and appetite,” “heightened imagination,” “disorganized thinking,” “illusions, delusions, and hallucinations,” and “agitation, paranoia, confusion, drowsiness, and panic attacks (which are most common in experienced or high-dosed users),” somehow make it more dangerous than high risks for liver cancer (alcohol!) or lung cancer (tobacco!).

The reality is that these federal administration’s refusal to acknowledge the need for marijuana in mainstream society among vulnerable, everyday Americans is rooted in decades-old stigma around the drug and the types of people stereotypically associated with it, which has stalled proper government-funded research of it for decades. Rescheduling the drug would require intensive renewed research that the DEA and FDA both seem unwilling to pursue.

Meanwhile, on a positive note, around the country more and more states are legalizing medical marijuana — as of the 2016 election in November, medical marijuana is legal and accessible in 28 states. Additionally, research by private institutes consistently reveals the wide range of diseases and impairments medical marijuana helps to address, from killing breast cancer cells and alleviating menstrual pain, to helping with PTSD and other mental health illnesses, to (again) treating epilepsy and quadriplegia.