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Washington, D.C. -- Medical marijuana patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed a petition with the federal court of appeals today in a widely watched case that seeks to reclassify marijuana for medical use. Plaintiffs in the case ASA v. Drug Enforcement Administration are requesting a rehearing before the original panel, as well as seeking full (en banc) review by the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. On January 22nd, the D.C. Circuit granted plaintiffs standing -- the right to sue the federal government to reclassify marijuana -- but, in a 2-1 ruling, denied the appeal on the merits by setting a new, virtually-impossible to meet standard for assessing medical efficacy.
"To deny that sufficient evidence is lacking on the medical efficacy of marijuana is to ignore a mountain of well-documented studies that conclude otherwise," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who argued the appeal before the D.C. Circuit in October of last year. "The Court has unreasonably raised the bar for what qualifies as an 'adequate and well-controlled' study, thereby continuing the government's game of 'Gotcha.'" ASA cited more than 200 peer-reviewed studies in its appeal, but the D.C. Circuit held that plaintiffs must produce evidence from Phase II and Phase III clinical trials -- usually reserved for companies trying to bring a new drug to market -- in order to show marijuana's medical efficacy.
In 2002, the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, made up of several individuals and organizations including ASA, filed a petition to reclassify marijuana for medical use. That petition was denied by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in July 2011, after ASA sued the Obama Administration for unreasonably delaying the answer. The appeal to the D.C. Circuit was the first time in nearly 20 years that a federal court has reviewed the issue of whether adequate scientific evidence exists to reclassify marijuana. Before the January ruling, the D.C. Circuit had never granted plaintiffs the right to sue when seeking reclassification of marijuana.
"The Obama Administration's legal efforts are keeping marijuana out of reach for millions of qualified patients who would benefit from its use," continued Elford. "It's time for President Obama or Congress to change our country's harmful federal policy on medical marijuana and treat its use as a public health issue." Over the past decade, national polls have consistently ranked support for medical marijuana among Americans at around 80 percent.
Patient advocates claim that marijuana is treated unlike any other controlled substance and that politics have dominated over medical science on this issue. Advocates point to a research approval process for marijuana, controlled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is unique, overly rigorous, and hinders meaningful therapeutic research. In its appeal brief, ASA argued that the DEA has no "license to apply different criteria to marijuana than to other drugs, ignore critical scientific data, misrepresent social science research, or rely upon unsubstantiated assumptions, as the DEA has done in this case."
ASA will continue to put pressure on the Obama Administration, but will also be lobbying Members of Congress to reclassify marijuana for medical use. Last month, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and several other members of Congress introduced HR689, the "States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act," which in addition to rescheduling marijuana would allow states to establish production and distribution laws without interference by the federal government, and would remove current obstacles to research. Following the bill's introduction, hundreds of advocates met in Washington, D.C. in February to lobby for the passage of HR689.
ASA petition for rehearing and en banc review: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DC_Circuit_Petition_En_Banc.pdf
D.C. Circuit decision: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DC_Circuit_Ruling_ASA_v_DEA.pdf
ASA appeal brief: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/CRC_Appeal.pdf
2002 CRC rescheduling petition: http://www.drugscience.org/PDF/Petition_Final_2002.pdf
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