Advocates sue for ruling on medical marijuana

A coalition of marijuana advocates sued the federal government today for failing to act on their nine-year-old request to “reschedule” the drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act to recognize its medicinal uses.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, accuses the government of unreasonable delay in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, and asks the court to force the Drug Enforcement Administration to answer the rescheduling petition – filed in 2002 – within 60 days.

“The federal government’s strategy has been delay, delay, delay,” said Joe Elford, chief counsel of Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access and the lead attorney in today’s action. “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.”

A previous cannabis marijuana rescheduling petition filed in 1972 went unanswered for 22 years before being denied.

Marijuana is listed among the most-restricted drugs under federal law; drugs on this list are deemed to have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety under medical supervision.

The coalition argues scientific studies around the world have provided ample evidence of marijuana’s therapeutic value. The lawsuit also knocks the DEA for railing to answer the petition despite an interagency advisory issued by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006 and a 41-page memo from the Department of Health and Human Services later that year.

The DEA’s formal rejection of the petition would let the coalition go to court to directly challenge the federal government’s claim that marijuana has no medical value.

The American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians have urged the government to review marijuana’s scheduling, and the National Cancer Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health) earlier this year added marijuana to its website as a “complementary alternative medicine.”

Medical marijuana has been decriminalized in 16 states including California plus the
District of Columbia, and poll show high public support for it.

“It is unacceptable for seriously ill Americans to wait a decade for their government to even respond to their petition for legal access to medicine to relieve their pain and suffering,” said Dale Gieringer, who directs the California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “The government’s unreasonable delay seriously impugns its competence to oversee Americans’ health care. The administration should act promptly to address its obsolete and bankrupt policy in accordance with President Obama’s pledge to put science above politics.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.