Finally, we may be reaching the end of a story we've been following for almost 18 months: the attempt by Americans for Safe Access, and related parties, to see marijuana rescheduled from its current status as a Schedule I substance, which has taken the group from a 2002 petition to a 2011 denial, to a subsequent lawsuit.
Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. rejected ASA's argument that the Drug Enforcement Administration's "final order denying their request to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana was arbitrary and capricious," reads the judgment written by Judge Harry T. Edwards.
So, basically, ASA's request to reschedule the drug to Schedule III, IV or V was rejected. Then its lawsuit saying the rejection was illogical — and not taking into account research that's already out there regarding cannabis' medical benefits — was rejected by the court.
There was a small highlight early in the case, when ASA maneuvered around and narrowly kept its standing. Unfortunately, the outcome of the whole thing hinged on portraying the bureaucracy of the DEA in a certain negative light, which was always a longshot.
"Under the Administrative Procedure Act, a court may set aside an agency’s final decision only if it is 'arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,'" it reads. "We will not disturb the decision of an agency that has ‘examine[d] the relevant data and articulate[d] a satisfactory explanation for its action including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.'"
Here's the DEA's reasoning regarding one of its five conditions of rescheduling, that the substance have proven medical use.
"To establish accepted medical use, the effectiveness of a drug must be established in well-controlled, well designed, well-conducted, and well-documented scientific studies, including studies performed in a large number of patients," it wrote in its initial rejection of ASA's request. "To date, such studies have not been performed. The small clinical trial studies with limited patients and short duration are not sufficient to establish medical utility."
The court said that the DEA would only consider studies that were as rigorous as what the Food and Drug Administration would put new drug applicants through, and that just any "peer-reviewed" study would not be sufficient.
"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," says Joe Elford, chief counsel with ASA, in a statement. "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.'"
Regardless of where you stand on marijuana's medical benefits, it's not hard to see the DEA took its sweet time deciding the issue. ASA and others (called the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis) first filed their petition in 2002. Nine years later, in 2011, the DEA rejected it, after being sued for the first time, which was five years after it had received the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' opinion in 2006 that there was not enough proof of medical efficacy.
"The Obama Administration's legal efforts will keep marijuana out of reach for millions of qualified patients who would benefit from its use," says Elford, noting the group would appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. "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."