Medical Marijuana Patients Sue Federal Government

May 22, 2011

Chris Roberts, SF Weekly

We all know that the wheels of government move slowly -- but nine years slowly? That pace is too lazy for Americans for Safe Access, which just wants answers. So it's going to court to force the federal government to get some response. At issue is a petition filed Oct. 9, 2002, by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, a group of medical-marijuana patients and attorneys, which asked the Drug Enforcement Administration to drop marijuana from Schedule I, its list of most dangerous illegal drugs. This classification means a drug has zero medical value and a high potential for abuse.

Since the petition was filed, the DEA has taken no action and provided no response to the claimants, who had filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request to get a 2006 memo from the Department of Health and Human Services. That memo was written in response to a DEA inquiry asking if a rescheduling was appropriate That, in turn, led to today's filing in a District of Columbia federal Court of Appeals.

"The federal government's strategy has been delay, delay, delay," said attorney Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access and the lead lawyer on the writ filed Monday.

In the writ, which accuses the federal government of "unreasonable delay," in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, the claimants argue that cannabis is not a dangerous drug because evidence of its use as medicine is legion around the world. It also claims that "despite numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies that marijuana is effective," the government "continues to deprive seriously ill persons of this needed and often life-saving therapy by maintaining marijuana as a Schedule I substance."

If the feds were trying to hide the fact that medical cannabis patients were asking for their medicine to be declared safe, they're doing a good job: When Angel Raich took her case to use medical marijuana legally to the Supreme Court in 2005, Justice Stephen Breyer told her she or someone else should have asked the government to take marijuana off Schedule I. In other words, the Supreme Court had no idea such a petition had already been filed.

Both the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians have called on the feds to review marijuana's classification. And who can forget the National Cancer Institute's inclusion of cannabis as an accepted "Complementary Alternative Medicine"? That says that "cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years prior to its current status as an illegal substance."

Readers might wonder why a pot group would demand that the federal government give them an answer which will undoubtedly say, "No, now fuck off." Well, here's why: No answer would allow the claimants to challenge, in court, the government's assertion that marijuana has no medical value, and to force a judge to sound off.

"We don't know what's gone on inside the DEA toward resolving this issue," says Kris Hermes, a spokesman for ASA. "They've clearly taken some effort to think about this issue, but have not responded to the petition."

An answer could come within a matter of "weeks or months," Hermes says. After that, it's more court time -- but at least there will be less waiting. Or so patients hope.

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