Marijuana activists file rescheduling appeal brief

An Oakland-based medical marijuana advocacy group filed a federal appeals court brief today asking that the government be forced to reclassify the drug for medical use.

The Drug Enforcement Administration last July denied a petition filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, and only after the coalition sued the government for unreasonable delay. Americans for Safe Access, which was part of that coalition, appealed the rescheduling denial today.

“For the first time in more than 15 years we will be able to present evidence in court to challenge the government’s flawed position on medical marijuana,” ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford said in a news release. “By ignoring the wealth of scientific evidence that clearly shows the therapeutic value of marijuana, the Obama Administration is playing politics at the expense of sick and dying Americans.”

Marijuana remains on Schedule I 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.

California became the first state to legalize medicinal use of marijuana with its Proposition 215 of 1996, but federal law still bans all cultivation, possession and use – a conflict that has led to many prosecutions and countless political headaches ever since. Medicinal use is now legal in 16 states plus the District of Columbia, and the governors of Washington and Rhode Island in November petitioned the federal government to reschedule the drug so that their states can implement their medical marijuana laws without conflict.

Although two other rescheduling petitions have been filed since the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, marijuana’s medical efficacy was reviewed only once by the courts, in 1994.

The ASA appeal brief argues that the federal government acted arbitrarily and capriciously in its efforts to deny marijuana to millions of patients throughout the United States, and 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 urges the court to “require the DEA to analyze the scientific data evenhandedly,” and order “a hearing and findings based on the scientific record.”

That record, the group says, includes studies conducted in the past decade that showing medical benefits of marijuana for illnesses such as neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s, and perhaps even in inhibiting growth of cancer cells. The National Cancer Institute, a division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, last year added cannabis to its list of Complementary Alternative Medicines. And the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians both have urged the federal government to review marijuana’s status as a Schedule I substance.

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.