ASA Loses Medical Marijuana Reclassification Appeal

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 23, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Marijuana needs a good PR campaign. Perhaps something to the effect of "Pot: It's Not as Dangerous as Heroin."

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) tried to give medical marijuana that much-needed public relations boost. Last fall, the group told the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that the Drug Enforcement Administration's most recent classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance was arbitrary and capricious because a number of studies support the use of medical marijuana. This week, the appellate court ruled against the ASA, concluding that the feds didn't act improperly in refusing to loosen restrictions on pot.

A Schedule I drug is considered to have a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S. Heroin and crack are clear-cut Schedule I drugs, but many medical professionals (and states) believe that marijuana can be used for medical purposes.

Marijuana policy reformers initially petitioned the DEA to reschedule marijuana in 2002. The DEA denied the petition almost 10 years later, saying there wasn’t substantial evidence that marijuana should be removed from Schedule I. The agency cited a five-year-old assessment from the Department of Health and Human Services that said there was no consensus in the medical community on the medical applications of marijuana, The Wall Street Journal reports.

ASA, however, argued that the DEA’s denial of the 2002 rescheduling petition did not measure up to statutory and judicial standards. Based on the D.C. Circuit’s 1994 opinion in Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics v. DEA, ASA claimed that the proper rescheduling consideration should be whether medical marijuana is “accepted by qualified experts,” not whether there’s a “consensus” of expert opinion favoring its use.

In affirming the DEA’s decision, the appellate panel wrote, “We defer to the agency’s interpretation of these regulations and find that substantial evidence supports its determination that such [adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy] do not exist.”

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted measure decriminalizing medical marijuana. Two states — Colorado and Washington — have decriminalized recreational pot. While President Obama has stated that prosecuting pot users in states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana use is not a priority for the DEA, last year’s raid on California’s Oaksterdam suggests otherwise.

Regardless of the government’s declared priorities, the DEA won’t be reclassifying marijuana anytime soon. For now, lawyers will have to continue defending their marijuana-toting clients against Schedule I drug charges.

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