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DC Circuit denies medical marijuana reclassification challenge, advocates vow to appeal

Posted on January 24th, 2013 by Global Ganja Report and tagged , , , .

THCThe United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued a ruling Jan. 22 in the medical marijuana reclassification case, Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration. In a 2-1 decision, the Court granted standing in the case—the right to bring a claim against the federal government—but denied the legal challenge on the merits, agreeing with the government's assertion that "adequate and well-controlled studies" on the medical efficacy of marijuana do not exist.

"To deny that sufficient evidence is lacking on the medical efficacy of marijuana is to ignore a mountain of well-documented studies that conclude otherwise," said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which appealed the denial of the rescheduling petition in January of last year. "The Court has unfortunately agreed with the Obama administration's unreasonably raised bar on what qualifies as an 'adequate and well-controlled' study, thereby continuing their game of 'Gotcha.'"

ASA intends to seek en banc review by the full DC Circuit and, if necessary, the organization will appeal to the US Supreme Court. ASA intends to argue that the Obama administration has acted arbitrarily and capriciously by using continually changing standards of "medical efficacy" in order to maintain marijuana as a Schedule I substance, a dangerous drug with no medical value. The government now contends that Stage II and III clinical trials are necessary to show efficacy, while ASA has consistently argued that the more than 200 peer-reviewed studies cited in the legal briefs adequately meet this standard.

In 2002, the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, made up of several individuals and organizations including ASA, filed a petition to reclassify marijuana for medical use. That petition was denied in July 2011, after ASA sued the Obama administration for unreasonably delaying the answer. The appeal to the DC Circuit was the first time in nearly 20 years that a federal court has reviewed the issue of whether adequate scientific evidence exists to reclassify cannabis.

"The Obama administration's legal efforts will keep marijuana out of reach for millions of qualified patients who would benefit from its use," protested Elford. "It's time for President Obama to change his harmful policy with regard to medical marijuana and treat this as a public health issue, something entirely within the capability and authority of the executive office."

Patient advocates claim that marijuana is treated unlike any other controlled substance and that politics have dominated over medical science on this issue. Advocates point to a research approval process for marijuana, controlled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is unique, overly rigorous, and hinders meaningful therapeutic research. ASA argued in its appeal brief 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 will continue to put pressure on the Obama administration, abd will also be lobbying members of Congress to reclassify marijuana for medical use. A new comprehensive public health bill on medical marijuana is expected to be introduced soon in Congress, and ASA is holding a national conference in February to support its passage. (ASA, Jan. 22)

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