Appeals Court To Review DEA’s Dismissal Of Cannabis Rescheduling Petition

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear opening arguments next week in a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s refusal to consider reclassifying cannabis as a schedule I prohibited substance under federal law.

At issue in the case is whether the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) acted appropriately when the agency last year denied an administrative petition – initially filed by a coalition of public interest organizations, including NORML, in 2002 – that called on the agency to initiate hearings to reassess the present classification of cannabis.

Under federal law, schedule I substances must possess three specific criteria: “a high potential for abuse;” “no currently accepted medical use in treatment;” and “a lack of accepted safety for the use of the drug … under medical supervision.” In its 2011 denial of petitioners’ rescheduling request, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart alleged that cannabis possesses all three criteria, claiming: “[T]here are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving (marijuana’s) efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts. … At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”

By contrast, a recent scientific review of clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of cannabis concluded, “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”

Commenting on the upcoming hearing in a press release, Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA) said: “Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court. What’s at stake in this case is nothing less than our country’s scientific integrity and the imminent needs of millions of patients.” Elford will be arguing the case before the D.C. Circuit. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Tuesday, October 16th.

NORML previously 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.

Further information on the lawsuit is available at: Additional information on the 2002 petition to reschedule cannabis is available at:

57 thoughts

  1. Well, if pharma didnt own our government, this may work. However, considering that tobacco and alcohol create life long customers to the pharmaceutical industry, they will remain legal, and cannabis, which TREATS illnesses, will remain prohibited. Pharma is in the business of making money, not curing people. A cured individual no longer needs treatment, and pharma says that is unacceptable. Your life, your health, and your future belong to Merck, Pfizer, and the other big pharma giants.

    Bankers may have ruined the economy, but pharma is an even more insidious criminal. Look at it like this…corporations are people now. Pharma is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people a year. Where is the accountability? Why is pharma not facing charges for the irresponsible deaths of all these people? Because pharma rules our world. Point blank, the big pharmaceutical companies are your masters, with the power to kill you with no fear of any repurcussions…we are all guinea pigs and always will be. Therefore, the non-toxic, beneficial, and completely safe natural remedy known as cannabis is bad…for business.

    While cannabis may not be right for everyone, and may not treat every illness and condition…it is enough of a cure allthat pharma is TERRIFIED at the prospects of people being able to access cannabis.

  2. It would be impossible for the DEA to prove that cannabis belongs in schedule 1. The only way that anyone could come that conclusion is to buy into the lies and propaganda the DEA has been spreading. If the Appeals Court is worth even existing, it will conclude that cannabis has medical properties and is very safe. It can be abused by some people, as can almost anything, but saying it high potential for abuse is just stupid since millions use it without any problem; assuming law enforcement doesn’t catch them.

  3. What’s on trial here is science itself. My Representative in the US Congress responded to my letter requesting he help halt the Federal government’s war on medical marijuana by citing irreproducible studies over 30 years old. It took me 2 minutes to find a 21st century metastudy that easily refuted his claims. My Representative in the US Congress is a physician. Think about it.

  4. This is what I’m talking about! We need to put these DEA shit heads on trial! LEGALIZE POT! LEGALIZE POT! Stay positive!

  5. Well we know justice is blind. We have to see if it’s blind in favor of the truth or blinded by the politics of this issue.

  6. The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record. Francis L. Young concludes is his Two Year Study – Findings of Fact – that the Administrator transfer marijuana from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 being that Marijuana is one of the Safest Therapeutically Active Substances Known to Man. Chief DEA Law Admin Judge’s ruling also corresponds with the United States Federal Gov’t patent #6630507’s detailed official report of Marijuana’s therapeutic benefits.

  7. Brian Cole, well said, brother.

    I guess it’s ok to have a meningitis outbreak, they did this on purpose btw. But hey, “Marijuana is bad for you” quoted from head of dea.

    Time to stomp and stop the Bad & Corrupted.

    Marijuana should not be under any class’s of illegalization’s.

  8. The DEA is in the business of self preservation and money. They do not care about the health of the nation that is why just recently they started to pretend at least to do something about the pill popping epidemic that should have been dealt with decades ago. Doctors in Florida have been setting up their very own pharmacies next to their clinics for decades. The doctors prescribe bucket loads of narcotics to individuals who then sell them in the Appalachian mountains. I have three friends who have died from overdose now. I think the DEA would serve greater purpose by doing their job they are suppose to do, that our tax dollars pay for. Not for cutting down ditch weed for dollars! Not for arresting Tommy Chong! Not for arresting Mark Emery. Not for shooting innocent people! Not for killing peoples pets in front of their children! Not for arresting caregivers and sick people! Shame on you DEA, you greedy devil. The DEA is going to hell no doubt but what can we do as the people of the United States to dismantle this violent evil that threaten our families with death and incarceration? Lets kick their asses with the judges in courts. Lets kick their asses in the media. Lets kick their asses for our family and friends. Lets kick their asses for all Americans. Down with this un- American tyrannical group.

  9. The true colors of the DEA (DEAD END ATROCITIES)and their effect of MARIJUANA TERRORISM using MARIJUANA PROHIBITION as a shield is starting to fall apart brick by brick. They are running out of lies and tall tales that concern marijuana and should get an F for the smoke is clearing and the mirrors are starting to shatter. The DEA should quit living in UTOPIAN FANTASIA thinking that they are scientists and are just morons as 21ST CENTURY INQUISITORS. ALL THE KINGS MEN WONT’T BE ABLE TO REBUILD THE WALL AGAIN when the votes come in CO, WA and OR. It’s about time somebody has enough time to review the situation at hand and expose the real truth. HAIL TO THE MONARCHY!

  10. When Nixon setup the DEA, he institutionalized an obvious conflict of interest. The DEA needs marijuana to remain in Schedule I in order to sustain funding for its massive bureaucracy. If marijuana were ever reclassified, the department would lose so much funding that it would collapse. Therefore, it always refuses to consider reclassification, and since there is no logical justification this policy, they resort to circular reasoning:

    “Medical studies to discover the medicinal value of Schedule I drugs are not allowed because they are Schedule I drugs, which have no accepted medicinal value.”

    We literally have a massive, well armed police force forbidding Science!

  11. Un-smoked cannabis and its cannabinoids are not Schedule 1 worthy, however the abuse that they mention is in the burning of cannabis to make the smelly/smiley smoke. This simple definition of marijuana will cause a distinction to exist in law:

    16. The term ‘marijuana’ means all parts
    of the smoke produced by the combustion
    of the plant Cannabis sativa L.

    Then trials can then be developed to determine just how abusive the smoke is vs. other delivery methods, and which Schedule that cannabis smoke should be in.

    Google Talking Points for the Peloton, and demand this simple definition.

  12. Assuming the Appeals Court does the right thing and reschedules cannabis to category 2 or even 3, then what can we expect with regard to Federal Law? Will the meanies finally leave us the hell alone or will they continue their current path of destruction and ruining the lives of thousands of good Americans?

    [Paul Armentano responds: To clarify: The Appellate Court does not have the authority to reclassify cannabis. The Court can rule that the DEA erred in refusing to allow reclassification hearings, as requested via the administrative petition process. This is simply step one in what is potentially a very protracted legal and administrative effort.]

  13. The timing couldn’t be more excruciating. If this case can drag out for several more weeks at least, there will then be the election and if there should be a very positive outcome for the marijuana law reform ballots this should have some bearing on the court case. Courts do on occasion take into account the public consensus of the day. Or maybe there will be another fine gent on the bench like Judge Francis Young, lest we forget, he was forced to resign for standing his ground and refusing to change his findings to suit the system. But for now, this is looking like a good years for reform.

  14. I don’t think there is any law enforcement group that I respect less then the DEA. These obvious hypocrites need to arrest and fine US, just to keep their jobs.

  15. I think it’s pretty sad that law enforcement is not qualified to validate the merits of thier orders as far as cannabis prohibition is concerned

  16. [Paul Armentano responds: To clarify: The Appellate Court does not have the authority to reclassify cannabis. The Court can rule that the DEA erred in refusing to allow reclassification hearings, as requested via the administrative petition process. This is simply step one in what is potentially a very protracted legal and administrative effort.]

    This is a CRUEL thing to say!!!

  17. Question for Paul A:
    Did I read correctly above that even with a federal judge’s recommendation the DEA still refused to reclassify? What will be different this time? If the DEA doesn’t have to heed the judge’s recommendation why should we believe this time will be any different than the last? We get a new hearing, a new recommendation, and a new DEA administrator telling us to go screw ourselves.

  18. Ok, to clarify.
    We have a hearing. The judge determines that the DEA erred in it’s judgment to keep cannabis in schedule I. What happens next? Do we get a new hearing again requesting that cannabis be reviewed for rescheduling? Who will reside over that hearing since the DEA will at that point have proven themselves incapable of handling this from a scientific perspective rather than political? Or will the judge simply turn it back over to the DEA with instructions to review it more carefully? How does this finally get cannabis reviewed on scientific credentials?

    [Paul Armentano responds: There is a very specific legal process regarding rescheduling. Ultimately, the power to reschedule lies with the Attorney General, but this authority has been delegated to the DEA. Under the process, one must file an administrative petition seeking hearings to discuss the rescheduling of cannabis (filed in 2002), the DC Department of Health and Human Services must sign off on the petition (done), and DEA must do so as well so that said hearings may be initiated. DEA rejected the petition in 2011. The DEA’s rejection of the petition is now before the DC Court of Appeals. If the DEA loses at the DC Court of Appeals then rescheduling hearings will move forward, as called for in the rescheduling petition. These hearings will be before the DEA’s administrative law judge, as required by federal law. The last time such hearings were held was in 1986. Following these hearings, the DEA’s administrative law judge will then make a determination on rescheduling. The DEA can then accept or contest this decision.]

  19. Yes Li, and as per our constitution, completely illegal. It is completely illegal to jail someone without a good reason to be doing so. A law designed to circumvent the constitution in such an obvious way is not legal–it is just a house of cards. Pot is too dangerous to study when literally anyone can study any dangerous material from industrial solvents to bacteria and virus along with developing new drugs–the process kills people now and then; but somehow and completely arbitrarily; marijuana is labeled too dangerous for anyone to study, even under armed guard. It is just a scam and it is so damn obvious that judges should have thrown it out years ago. Marijuana prohibition is the action of ignoring the constitution (arbitrarily making people into criminals for possession of non-dangerous materials—possession of gasoline is factually much more dangerous and making it a crime would still be arbitrary and useless for implementing justice) and never was legal. Talking shit about someone and then officially labeling that someone a criminal because of the shit talking is and has always been illegal in this country!

    I really want to know how these garbage laws are successfully defended in courts around the nation!!? Do all the judges take “stupid pills” before they hear marijuana cases?

  20. I guess my next question is does the DEA currently have an administrative law judge we can assume will look at the evidence without bias or is he/she (I’m not aware of who is currently in this position)in favor of continuing prohibition? Assuming that the judge does rule in favor of rescheduling, and assuming the DEA challenges the ruling, what next? I imagine it will again go before a board or court of appeals which will have to rule based on the evidence (I hope) and the DEA will either win, thus halting the rescheduling process, or lose in which case…what exactly? Will it be decided by that court or board where will be rescheduled to or will there be another hearing to determine where it belongs? What obstacles still stand in the way? Assuming it goes as smoothly and in our favor as possible, which I don’t expect, how long before the rescheduling process reaches a final conclusion and we either win or have to start all over?
    BTW Just wanted to say thanks for being so informative. I hate to waste your time with this stuff but I don’t know anywhere else to go to get honest feedback on this.

    [Paul Armentano responds: I believe that the DEA’s present administrative law judge will assess the evidence impartially and appropriately — assuming said hearings take place. But this process takes years. It took almost two full years after the 1986 hearings petitioned for by NORML et al before the DEA’s administrative law judge ruled in our favor. That decision and whether the DEA possessed the authority to ignore it was then litigated for another six years.]

  21. Also, can we ever expect any degree of accountability regarding the fact that it took a decade for the DEA to even get around to addressing our concerns when they denied the petition in the first place?

    [Paul Armentano responds: Only in our dreams.]

  22. The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 is the DEA’s very own source of existence. To remove cannabis from Schedule One would mean doom to that agency. They will defend it at all cost with the help of federal sponsored special interest groups against cannabis, even if it means to stage a fake major drug bust, propaganda, anti-cannabis commercials, and picking on state regulated dispensaries.

    The law against cannabis is the DEA’s sacred law in worshiping their founder, Richard M. Nixon. They will not bend.

  23. Don’t we have laws against conflict of interest? We didn’t years ago, but we do now. Doesn’t conflict of interest apply here in this section of “criminal” justice as well? Or is marijuana still too “dangerous” for us to follow the law and constituion?

    Maybe the DEA can come out with a new jiggle, “Its magically dangerous”. Follow the law? We don’t have to ’cause, “Its magically dangerous!”

  24. This explains why there are now news releases of children and pets being harmed by edibles. this could be used as evidence of harm even if false. There is still no documented case of a child or a pet being harmed or killed by cannabis.

  25. Brian Cole, you are an ignorant SOB. I’ve worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over 10, researching potential cures for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, anutoimmune XD, etc. If the pharma industry was interested in keeping people sick to use their drugs, than why are they spending millions of dollars a year on potenially better drugs that never make it to market? The problem with Marijuana is that the whole plant is beneficial but we don’t understand why. It’s probably due to the synergistic effect of several chamicals, but if the biology isn’t understood, then by definition, it can’t be considered medicine. In all other clinical trials, drugs (usually only one chemical compound) have to be extensively characterized before they even make it into Phase I trials. The is no.feasible way to do that level of characterization using a whole plant and analyzing the the effect or otherwise of thousands of chemicals in the plant. It would take 20 years! So its not the pharma industry’s doing, preventing mmj. Believe me, if it were considered “medicine” by the FDA than you could count on thousands of highly qualified scientists competing to make super strains of mmj. The problem is the FDA. They don’t want lawsuits resulting from the administration of a drug which hasn’t been through the classical clinical trials. In my opinion, there are results suggesting efficacy, though the exact biology and mechanism(s) of actions aren’t well characterized. Is it schedule 1? Not in my opinion because it isn’t highly addictive (like alcohol), and there is benefit from treatment. Notice the Schedule I criteria doesn’t even mention anything about clinical trials? Yeah, based on this, NJ should definately be rescheduled. PS, I am a biologist and would love to make better mmj and characterize the biology 🙂

  26. Also, can we ever expect any degree of accountability regarding the fact that it took a decade for the DEA to even get around to addressing our concerns when they denied the petition in the first place?

    [Paul Armentano responds: Only in our dreams.]

    I’m not big on vengeance, although I wouldn’t mind seeing a few of the big name drug warriors exposed as what they really are. I am concerned about the blatant disregard of science in favor of preconceived ideological notions, though. To launch an all out drug war on our own people while ignoring the roles of legally sanctioned, deadly drugs like nicotine and alcohol in our society is appallingly inept social policy. You could NOT consciously design a more flawed, counterproductive, wasteful policy. We can little afford not to understand what allowed a few nasty zealots to pervert the land of the free into the greatest jailer on the planet.

  27. Brilliant idea for prohibitionists, this “REscheduling.”

    See, what happens is this:

    1) We “REschedule” cannabis.
    2) “They” need to conduct “safety studies” so that they can say “it’s safe for the newly reorganized limited list of things that we’ll allow you to use cannabis for.”

    This could take as little as 2-4 years, or as long as…NEVER! During the period between “2 years to never”, of course, there would be justification for a COMPLETE BAN “while the safety studies were undertaken.” That means you’d still go to jail…and that doesn’t exclude medicinal users either.

    So here’s two words that NOBODY ever says, and which ARE the only real solution to prohibition:

    1) DEschedule. REMOVE IT COMPLETELY.
    3) DONE!!!

    Or you can keep buying into the bullshit that you know hasn’t worked for the last 80 years, and keep right on believing when they tell you “It’s gonna be legal in just another few years…”

    Remember when they told you that in the’ 60s? And the ’70s? And the ’80s? And the ’90s? And the ’00s? And don’t they keep telling us the same thing now that we’re in the ’10s?

    Hasn’t ANYBODY clued into the fact that THIS IS ALL JUST A GAME TO THEM yet?


  28. It is a game your right! It’s called vote for the people who actually give a care about science. If your not voting then you have no right to complain. We need to DEschedule but I’ll take baby steps with the RE. Only way it has a chance of being completely legal is if we elect a president that would back it. Even then it wont be a guarenteed thing with congress and special interest groups. I am voting for Gary Johnson…will he win? Probably not since people dont research or think anything outside of the duopoly is a wasted vote. I suppose nothing will change until we change the way we elect our leaders.

  29. The first step in ending prohibition is to elect the right people. Vote Libertarian, Green, or Democrat. But never, ever TeaPublican. Watch this video:

  30. Marijuana criminalization is nothing more than the United States Government’s “stimulus program” to law enforcement, courts, and corrections!. The United States government is the most repressive regime on the face of the earth!

  31. I find it terribly ironic that the people most opposed to the “legalisation” of cannabis (judges, DEA and LEOs, etc) regularly abuse far more toxic and unhealthy drugs than we do, and yet, we’re the “bad guys”.

    It would be funny if it weren’t so damn tragic.

    As a grower, user, and dispenser of medical cannabis, I applaud any effort to bring the actual benefits, instead of the falsely perceived “danger”, of mmj to chronic pain sufferers, terminal cancer patients (my main client base) and those in need.

    And let’s not forget, even when the active chemical-producing plant parts are taken, the rest of the plant can still do more for society via silage, raw material, and more. It just seems insane to try to prove this plant family is somehow dangerous or deadly. Like calling oxygen “lethal”.

  32. Yes, marijuana is too “safe” to be on the schedule. Jason’s comments about not being about to “classify all the different chemicals” is way too loaded for me.

    Look, drugs have to be put through all this testing because we don’t know what effects these novel chemicals will have on us. Marijuana doesn’t contain any manmade chemicals of unknown safety that need to be tested every-which-way. Everything in it can be digested or otherwise safely processed by our bodies the same with many, many kinds of foods. Saying we need to “classify” all the chemicals present is actually an absurd statement because no we don’t. Do we need to “classify” all the chemicals in eggplants before it is legal to sell them?

    How did we ever get so fucking lost in the sauce… “Is it really magically dangerous?” Radiation is something of a “magical danger” as you will not know about it if you don’t test for it like with radon, and of course it can kill you. But marijuana? We all already know it is safe.

    Doctors do not need to directly be involved with most uses of marijuana, it is already safer than schedule five drugs; and is generally something thing only to “recommend” as it isn’t used in specific doses of specific strength, and it does not matter as far as safety is concerned. This whole idea of trying to merge “drug logic” and apply it to “marijuana logic” is just a big waste of time for everyone involved. It is not a drug, it is an herb that contains drug-like compounds which are “amazingly well tolerated by the human body.”

  33. OK, I’ve read the submissions and the DEA’s response and supporting documentation, and all I can think of is who the hell are these people, and what are THEY smoking?

    The DHHS report is an embarrassing joke. Half the report speaks about the many pharmacokinetic and pharmacological effects, none of which have actually been properly studied, but which are known to be factual, and says “it’s too complicated to discuss while it’s illegal”, while the other half of the report talks in ever-decreasing circles about it not being medically useful! WTF?

    I did like the “explanation” of the four 17th-century scientific principles under which the DHHS thinks marijuana is heroin. Yeah, that made a lot of sense – if it’s like stuff we manufacture, which is different but kinda the same, and that stuff is really, really, um, bad, then marijuana must be even worse! Do these people honestly think that “like attracts like” is a principle of modern medicine? If so, bring out the voodoo dolls, man, let’s fix the health industry here and now!

    Finally, and most tellingly, you can cross out “marijuana” and insert “alcohol” in their 4 criteria, and it reads like an even more damning report, except it explains nothing to the tens of thousands of grieving families around the world touched by alcoholism, drunk driving, and related crimes. It’s like the elephant in the room.

    Anyone who doesn’t see the hypocrisy is seriously self-deluded.

    Using the amazing number of positive (but unresearched!) medical effects to argue that it’s dangerous, and then saying there are “no known medical applications” is sophistry of the worst kind.

    And how about them DEAs?

    Why, if the DEA is getting more funding every year, is the number of people using, selling, growing, and distributing marijuana increasing at such an enormous rate, while simultaneously the DEA is destroying larger and larger quantities of marijuana every year? Could it be that they aren’t winning the “war” on “drugs”?

  34. The DEA has a solution throw every buddy in JAIL make there madatory rehab wingnuts rich and stick it to the people. GEE SOUNDS ALOT WORST THEN JUST MAKING THE STUFF LEGAL. DEA GET OFF THE PUBLICS BACK GO F#$% YOURSELF

  35. Not a single MD physician testifying today. Why not? I believe the well-intentioned fools are going to set the decriminalization movements back 20 years today.

  36. Just look at the commercials of various drugs the DEA has passed for consumption (and often done so in a rapid fashion). Each commercial ends with a 30 second rant on the various side effects. Other commercials by Lawyers asking if you have ever taken this or that and experienced these side effects to contact them presumably for a litigation suit. I love this country, which is why it is so sickening to see Washington’s slime in suits stuffing their bank accounts with no concern for righteousness and/or justice. No one should do time for a non violent offence or for something that doesn’t cause one to step on another’s toes. Legalize hemp, decriminalize marijuana and do away with the drug czar and the economy will flourish. Politicians say whatever but their actions are criminal and cowardly, imho. Shame on our so called representatives

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