Lance Duroni, Law360

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal from several medical marijuana advocacy groups challenging the Drug Enforcement Administration’s decision to maintain marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the category reserved for the most dangerous substances.

In a summary order, the high court denied a petition for writ of certiorari from the advocacy groups, led by Americans for Safe Access, which wanted the court to weigh in on whether U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognition of acceptable medical uses for the drug is necessary before the DEA can relax marijuana restrictions.

In January, the D.C. Circuit upheld the DEA’s denial of a petition that would have reclassified marijuana as a Schedule III, IV or V drug. Marijuana's Schedule I status restricts the production, sale and use of marijuana under federal law, as such drugs are deemed to have no acceptable medical uses and a high potential for abuse.

The D.C. Circuit found that the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 requires FDA-approved clinical trials to validate proposed medical uses before a drug can be rescheduled.

Joseph Elford, an attorney for the advocacy groups, told Law360 Monday that the Supreme Court’s decision denying certiorari is in line with its general reluctance to review medical marijuana cases, particularly those brought on behalf of patients.

“It’s disappointing, but not altogether surprising,” he said.

The medical marijuana advocates — which also included the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, Patients Out of Time and several individuals — argued in their petition to the high court that the DEA and D.C. Circuit placed too much emphasis on FDA approval and ignored peer-reviewed studies that prove the benefits of marijuana in treating chronic pain, symptoms associated with AIDS and side-effects from chemotherapy, among other health problems.

The DEA also failed to consider other necessary drug characteristics, such as safety and abuse potential, that could also justify the reclassification, according to the petition.

“The DEA fails to compare the abuse potential of marijuana to other scheduled substances, as the [Controlled Substances Act] requires,” the petition said. “It is only failing to apply the appropriate standards and make the required comparisons that the federal government could conclude that marijuana is as harmful as heroin and PCP and even more harmful than methamphetamine, cocaine and opium, and should remain in the CSA's most restrictive Schedule I.”

Elford said Monday that despite the high court’s refusal to the hear the case, the effort to reschedule marijuana is “not dead by any means,” pointing to FDA trials currently underway that could prove marijuana’s medical uses and meet the requirement laid down by the D.C. Circuit.

He said he is “extremely optimistic” that within a year or two, clinical trials testing marijuana’s treatment of health problems, including muscle spasticity, a symptom of multiple sclerosis, and neuropathy will validate the drug as a medicine.

However, Elford also cautioned that there are questions about the quality of marijuana used in government testing, which could affect the results of the clinical trials. He noted that, outside the judicial branch, both Congress and President Barack Obama could take action to reschedule marijuana as well.

The petitioners are represented by Joseph D. Elford, in-house counsel at Americans for Safe Access.

The case is Americans for Safe Access et al. v. Drug Enforcement Administration, case number 13-84, in the U.S. Supreme Court.