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Federal Court Asked to Compel Decision in Marijuana Scheduling Action

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A coalition of advocacy groups and patients yesterday filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to compel the Obama Administration to formally respond to a 9-year-old petition to have marijuana rescheduled under the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Relief sought from the Court of Appeals would enable states with medical marijuana laws to expedite efforts to change marijuana's status under federal law and narrow the widening gap between state and federal law.  For example, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire has expressed interest in having all the states that allow medical marijuana to ask the federal government to reclassify the drug.  If the Court of Appeals grants the relief requested by the CRC, Washington and other medical marijuana states would have the opportunity to seek rescheduling now in expedited proceedings, rather than wait years for a new rescheduling action to ripen.

The Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) argues that marijuana no longer satisfies the requirements of a Schedule I prohibited substance and that federal law requires that it be reclassified.  President Obama's Administration has had ample time to review the Coalition's administrative petition but has refused to take final action, violating the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act which requires action within a reasonable period of time.

One of the requirements for maintaining a drug in Schedule I of the CSA is that it must not have accepted medical use in the United States.  Marijuana's medical use is now accepted by 16 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) as well as the District of Columbia.

According to Jon Gettman, coordinator of the CRC, "Marijuana has accepted medical use in the United States, it has a lower abuse potential than drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, and it is safe for use under medical supervision.  All of these characteristics are well-documented scientifically and legally.  Federal law requires the Obama Administration to reclassify marijuana."

"The federal government's strategy has been delay, delay, delay," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel of ASA and lead counsel on the writ. "It is far past time for the government to answer our rescheduling petition, but unfortunately we've been forced to go to court in order to get resolution." The writ of mandamus filed accuses the government of unreasonable delay in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

A formal rejection of the CRC petition would enable the group to take the issue to the federal courts.  Gettman believes that, "The Obama Administration's refusal to act on this petition is an irresponsible stalling tactic; it denies us due process under the law and, more shamefully, it continues to deny countless patients a chance to use current law to seek legal access to marijuana for medical use."

The CSA classifies marijuana and other drugs in various schedules.  Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance, designating it as having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. 

The CSA provides a procedure to have scheduling classifications changed in response to scientific research and other relevant factors, such as recognition of a drug's accepted medical use and its dependence liability as compared to other controlled substances.  Schedule I substances include heroin, GHB and MDMA (ecstasy).  Cocaine and oxycodone are both Schedule II substances, which allows for severely restricted medical use while maintaining the assertion that its abuse may lead to severe physiological and psychological dependence.  Marinol® a synthetic form of THC (marijuana) that is widely prescribed medically is a Schedule III substance designating that it has a currently accepted medical use in the United States and that's its abuse is associated with only a moderate dependence liability.

The members of the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis include the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), California NORML, the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, High  Times, Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center (Cooperative), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), New Mexicans for Compassionate Use, Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, and Patients Out of Time.

Further information:

Timeline of Efforts to Reschedule Marijuana

  • 1995 2001 – Prior attempt by Jon Gettman to reschedule cannabis ended with a rejection of the petition by then DEA head Asa Hutchinson
  • 2002 – Coalition for Rescheduling files new petition to DEA to reschedule marijuana.
  • 2003 – 2006 – HHS reviews all science relevant and makes recommendation to DEA
  • 2006 – Present – Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis awaits final decision by DEA.

Writ filed:

CRC rescheduling petition:

Additional Information:

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