Washington, DC: A coalition of public interest advocacy groups filed suit this week in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to compel the Obama administration to respond to a nine-year-old petition to reclassify marijuana under federal law.
The suit was filed by attorneys Joe Elford of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and Michael Kennedy of the NORML Legal Committee on behalf of the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC). The Coalition, which includes NORML and California NORML, filed a comprehensive rescheduling petition with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on October 9, 2002, challenging marijuana's Schedule I federal classification as a controlled substance with "no currently accepted medical use" and a "high potential for abuse." The agency formally accepted the petition for filing on April 3, 2003, and per the provisions of the United States Controlled Substances Act (CSA) referred the petition to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in July 2004 for a full scientific and medical evaluation.
To date, the federal government has not publicly responded to the petition.
The lawsuit petitions the Court for a writ of mandamus "directing the DEA and the Attorney General to issue a full and final determination on petitioners' Petition to reschedule marijuana, or, alternatively, state whether it will initiate rulemaking proceedings, within 60 days."
It states: "The DEA's delay here of more than eight years since the rescheduling Petition was filed -- and more than four years since it received HHS' binding evaluation and recommendations -- is inexcusable. ... [T]his agency delay in acting on the rescheduling Petition is unreasonable, requiring this Court to intervene."
Under the CSA, the Attorney General has the authority to reschedule a drug if he finds that it does not meet the criteria for the schedule to which it has been assigned. The Attorney General has delegated this authority to the Administrator of the DEA, presently Michelle Leonhart.
The 2002 CRC petition seeks to reschedule cannabis from its Schedule I designation to a less restrictive class under the CSA "on the grounds that: (1) marijuana does have accepted medical uses in the United States; (2) it is safe for use under medical supervision and has an abuse potential lower than Schedule I and II drugs; and (3) it has a dependence liability that is also lower than Schedule I or II drugs."
NORML filed a similar rescheduling petition with the DEA in 1972, but was not granted a federal hearing on the issue until 1986. In 1988, DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young ruled that marijuana did not meet the legal criteria of a Schedule I prohibited drug and should be reclassified. Then-DEA Administrator John Lawn rejected Young's determination, a decision the D.C. Court of Appeals eventually affirmed in 1994.
A subsequent petition was filed by former NORML Director Jon Gettman in 1995, but was rejected by the DEA in 2001.
For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500.