Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia really hammered new DEA Administrator Robert Patterson during a House Judiciary Committee hearing last Tuesday concerning the alarming opioid epidemic facing the United States. It feels as though little is being accomplished to battle the epidemic on the federal level and the one piece of data that has shown some ability to combat the issue, marijuana, is being ignored.

Representatives at the hearing wanted to know more about why the DEA will not consider removing cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, especially if it can help slow the rate of deaths due to overdoses on opioids. Rep. Johnson wanted to know from DEA Administrator Patterson just how many of the over 64,000 deaths caused from overdoses in 2016 were due to cannabis.

“I am aware of a few deaths from marijuana,” DEA Acting Administrator Robert Patterson told congressional lawmakers with a straight face on Tuesday.

“I don’t recall even seeing that on the charts,” Patterson said, adding, “I am aware of a few deaths from marijuana.”

“I understand the issue here, which is [opioid] is not comparable [to marijuana],” he said.

Patterson’s answers brings into question the DEA’s reasoning for not removing cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. If they are unsure of deaths caused exclusively from the consumption of marijuana and they do not have any data supporting their conclusion that people have died from marijuana overdoses, then why are they so rigid about the illegal status of cannabis?

Earlier this year, a case was brought before a federal judge to have cannabis rescheduled, but the judge said it fell out of his jurisdiction and that the case had to be taken up with the DEA. Many attempts to sue the DEA for keeping cannabis a Schedule 1 drug have failed. Why is it that the DEA seems intentionally obtuse on the issue of cannabis?