9 years later, feds answer pot advocates: “No.”

A coalition of marijuana advocates say their lawsuit filed in May deserves credit for forcing the federal government to answer a request to remove marijuana from the list of most-restricted drugs.

The government’s answer, of course, was “No.” But the advocates say at least this will free them to go to an appeals court to directly challenge the government’s claim that marijuana has no medical value.

The Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, a group that contains the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, had filed its petition in 2002 asking the Drug Enforcement Administration to remove marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which lists drugs 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.

Since the petition was filed, the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians both urged the federal government to review marijuana’s status as a Schedule I substance. But a previous cannabis marijuana rescheduling petition filed in 1972 went unanswered for 22 years before being denied, and after nine years of waiting, the coalition in May asked a judge to force the DEA to answer within 60 days. The DEA placed its answer in the Federal Register today.

“Although this superficially looks like a defeat for the medical marijuana community, it simply maintains the status quo”” American for Safe Access Chief Counsel Joe Elford said in a news release this morning. “More importantly, however, we have foiled the government’s strategy of delay and we can now go head-to-head on the merits, that marijuana really does have therapeutic value.”

Elford said his group will appeal the government’s denial of the petition to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia as soon as possible.

Americans for Safe Access noted the petition denial was sent to the coalition’s lawyers last Thursday, one day after the Justice Department issued a memo advising the nation’s federal prosecutors that anyone who cultivates, sells or distributes marijuana on a large scale – including local or state officials in jurisdictions with laws allowing the drug’s medical use – could face federal prosecution.

“The federal government is making no bones about its aggressive policy to undermine medical marijuana,” ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer said. “And we’re prepared to take the Obama Administration to court over it.”

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.