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The DEA is threatening doctors linked to medical marijuana

Michele Leonhart, head of the DEA, in 2010.
Michele Leonhart, head of the DEA, in 2010.
Antonio Scorza / AFP via Getty Images

The US Drug Enforcement Administration is intimidating physicians in Massachusetts to get them to give up jobs at medical marijuana dispensaries, The Boston Globe reports.

The DEA allegedly went to physicians' homes and offices and offered them a choice: either they stop helping medical marijuana dispensaries, or the DEA will take away federal licenses that are necessary to prescribe certain medications. Since doctors' livelihoods can depend on their ability to prescribe drugs, the threats forced some of them to resign from their medical marijuana jobs.

The DEA, in a statement to Vox, confirmed the policies are part of the agency's protocol, but it refused to comment on the specific allegations in Massachusetts.

"DEA enforces the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and as a regulatory agency, it also ensures that those who are registered with DEA to handle controlled substances — including physicians, hospitals, and pharmacies — are aware of their obligations under the CSA," a DEA spokesperson said. "It would not be appropriate to comment on specific interactions with registrants or any ongoing investigations."

Although marijuana is voter-approved and legal for medical purposes in Massachusetts, it remains illegal under federal laws and regulations. The DEA classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 substance, which puts the drug in a stricter classification than cocaine and meth.

The contradiction between federal and state laws speaks to why so many supporters of marijuana legalization want clearer rules on the books. Just two weeks ago, the US House of Representatives voted to protect medical marijuana patients from federal interference. A few weeks before the House vote, the DEA decided to increase how much marijuana it makes available for medical research.

At this point, the two-steps-forward-one-step-backward approach has become all too familiar for supporters of recreational and medical marijuana legalization. As public opinion shifts in favor of marijuana legalization, it's taking the federal government — and agencies that rely on strict drug laws to stay afloat — a bit more time to catch up.

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