Former FDA Commissioner Enters Marijuana Debate
September 24, 2019

Much of the recent news involving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and cannabis has concerned the FDA’s potential regulation of cannabidiol (CBD) products. According to a recent article in Politico, former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb believes a similar discussion is warranted with respect to marijuana.

Gottlieb expressed what could be considered, on its face, a middle-ground position. In a positive sign for reform advocates, Gottlieb suggested rescheduling marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to allow for additional medical research. “If we believe that cannabis has medicinal potential, we should enable suitable research…” he said in a speech to Samford University’s School of Pharmacy. But in a far less positive sign, he rejected calls for recreational legalization, noting that rescheduling marijuana and opening the doors to medical research is preferable to “bypass[ing] these norms through wholesale legalization.” He called on Congress to act to address the myriad of challenges hindering lawful marijuana research.

That said, Gottlieb’s comments, intentionally or not, also serve as an important reminder that there is a divide within the cannabis reform movement.  There are some who support the legalization of marijuana, but only if it can be proven to have medicinal benefits. There are others that support broader legalization, often based on principles of personal autonomy, remedying inequitable enforcement of drug laws, or economics. It would not be surprising to see opponents of reform change their tactics in the coming months and years to take advantage of this divide. Rather than call for outright prohibition, they may seek to slow down legalization by focusing on the need for further research into the medicinal benefits of marijuana. There is no indication that this was former Commissioner Gottlieb’s intent, but it is something to continue to monitor going forward. We will do so here on our blog.

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