Let’s start by considering the current landscape for government regulation of controlled substances in general and cannabis regulation in particular.
Controlled Substances Generally
The FDA and DEA regulate the manufacture and sale of all controlled substances in the US. Controlled substances include not only illegal drugs and prescription drugs, but also dietary supplements. More specifically, the FDA ensures all (legal) substances available for use are safe and effective. The FDA also prevents manufacturers from making health claims that have not been appropriately established. The DEA enforces drug laws preventing unauthorized manufacture, sale, or use of controlled substances.
Cannabis in Particular
Currently, cannabis is classified under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) as a Schedule I drug. Theoretically, as a CSA substance, cannabis is treated like a pharmaceutical, i.e., it’s regulated by the FDA and DEA.
In effect, however, medical cannabis is largely treated somewhere between pharmaceuticals and supplements: General access to medical cannabis requires signoff by a physician – thus making it similar to other pharmaceuticals. At the same time, however, once patients obtain physician approval, patients are free to purchase and consume whichever medical cannabis products they choose – making is similar to over-the-counter supplements.
Recreational (rec) cannabis, on the other hand, is treated more like alcohol and tobacco: Manufacturers must be licensed, and they must establish that products are safe for consumption. Retailers must be licensed to sell cannabis products, but consumers don’t need a prescription or license to purchase or consume.
It thus seems reasonable that medical cannabis would continue to be regulated by the FDA and DEA, while rec cannabis would eventually become regulated with alcohol and tobacco, under the ATF.
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