WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton on Saturday called for looser federal regulations governing marijuana, to boost scientific research on a drug that many tout for relieving pain, among other medical benefits, according to media reports.
Speaking at a campaign event in Orangeburg, South Carolina, the Democratic presidential candidate said changing U.S. rules would acknowledge the drug's potential for medical uses and give scientists access to the drug for further investigation.
"Universities, (the) National Institutes of Health can start researching what is the best way to use it, how much of a dose does somebody need, how does it interact with other medications," Clinton said, according to CNN.
Specifically, Clinton called for moving marijuana to Schedule 2 from Schedule 1 under the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA's five levels of "drug scheduling" affect access as well as criminal prosecutions.
Drugs deemed Schedule 1 have "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse" and "are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules," according to the DEA. A Schedule 2 drug is still "considered dangerous," it has said, and includes oxycodone and cocaine.
While 23 U.S. states have eased access to marijuana for medical use and four of them, plus Washington, D.C., allow "recreational" use, the substance remains prohibited under federal law.
Medical researchers have been cautious about the drug's benefits and risks, in part because of the lack of scientific studies, including data on the long-term effects of its main psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
"I do support the use of medical marijuana," Clinton said at the event hosted by the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, according to NBC. "Even there we need to do a lot more research so that we know exactly how we're going to help people for whom medical marijuana provides relief."
Clinton's proposal is part of her ongoing call to reform the nation's criminal justice system. On Friday, she urged changes to mandatory minimum sentences.
Marijuana advocates, who also cite the drug's economic benefits, are seeking to make it a campaign issue in the 2016 race for the White House.
Clinton's rival U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has proposed fully legalizing marijuana and removing it from any DEA schedule. Rival Martin O'Malley supports easing access as a Schedule 2 drug.
Stances on marijuana have been mixed among the 15 Republicans vying for their party's presidential nomination.
Unlike prescription medications, marijuana has not been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. Researchers have also raised concerns about its impact on teenagers and young adults.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)