DEA Denies Marijuana Rescheduling Petition

July 07, 2011

Phillip Smith, Drug War Chronicle

The DEA Friday denied a petition asking the federal government to reschedule marijuana out of Schedule l of the Controlled Substances Act. The petition had languished within the caverns of federal bureaucracies for nine years, but the agency finally moved to deny it two months after medical marijuana advocates filed a lawsuit to compel the government to act.

The Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis had sought to reclassify marijuana on a lesser schedule, arguing that current science does not allow for it to be classified as a Schedule I drug. Such substances must have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the US, and a lack of accepted safety for use.

While marijuana has abuse potential, a DEA judge in 1989 cited it as one of the safest therapeutic substances known to man, and it is currently being used as a legal medicine under the laws of 15 states and the District of Columbia. But DEA officials overruled their own judge and left marijuana in Schedule I.

DEA attitudes toward marijuana [Ed: and toward science] have not changed much in 20 years -- in Friday's Federal Register, the agency wrote: "Marijuana continues to meet the criteria for schedule I control under the CSA because marijuana has a high potential for abuse, marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and marijuana lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision."

Given that marijuana is being used medically in states across the country, it is worth a bit deeper look  into the DEA's rationale for saying it has no currently accepted medical use. "According to established case law, marijuana has no 'currently accepted medical use' because the drug’s chemistry is not known and reproducible; there are no adequate safety studies; there are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts; and the scientific evidence is not widely available," the DEA claimed.

"Although this superficially looks like a defeat for the medical marijuana community, it simply maintains the status quo" said Joe Elford, chief counsel for coalition member Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and lead counsel in the recent lawsuit. "More importantly, however, we have foiled the  government's strategy of delay and we can now go head-to-head on the merits, that marijuana really does have therapeutic value."

Americans for Safe Access said it plans to appeal the denial of the petition to the DC Circuit Court as soon as possible. The group noted that the denial was dated June 30, one day after the Justice Department issued a memo threatening to prosecute commercial medical marijuana operations and even state and local officials who attempt to implement state medical marijuana laws.

"The federal government is making no bones about its aggressive policy to undermine medical marijuana," said ASA executive director Steph Sherer, "And we're prepared to take the Obama administration to court over it."

The group also noted that the petition denial comes in the same week as the 21st annual symposium of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, which is sponsored in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Elsohly Laboratories, the federal government's only licensed source of research-grade marijuana, and an array of pharmaceutical companies interested in asking the government to reschedule organic THC so they can sell a generic version of Marinol, which is now produced synthetically.

"The government cannot have it both ways; marijuana is either a medicine or it's not," continued Sherer. "If the government is going to sponsor a conference on medical marijuana, it should show the same deference to the millions of patients across America who simply want access to it."

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