Mr. Spliff goes to Washington

Americans for Safe Access hopes to reclassify cannabis

This fall, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., will hear oral arguments in a 40-year-long battle to end cannabis’ placement in Schedule I of the five-tiered Controlled Substances Act system for classifying drugs.

Americans for Safe Access, representing a handful of patient-plaintiffs, hopes to get the D.C. circuit court to compel the Drug Enforcement Administration to reschedule pot to a less restrictive category—an idea the DEA has rejected twice since weed was provisionally placed in Schedule I by Congress in 1970.

Under federal law, Schedule I drugs have “no currently accepted medical use” and “high potential for abuse” and include heroin, ecstasy, LSD, and methaqualone.

However, cannabis has proven medical uses and a low potential for abuse, wrote Americans for Safe Access attorney Joe Elford in the appeal. Hundreds of modern medical studies testify to its medical efficacy and safety for treating cancer pain, nausea from chemotherapy, and spasticity from muscular sclerosis, among other serious medical problems.

Weed can now only be removed from Schedule I by Congress, the president or the attorney general—who has delegated that power to the DEA. Citizens can also petition the DEA to reschedule a drug, and citizens promptly did in 1972—to comical effect.

Americans for Safe Access thinks this third petition can do better than the others, because more scientific research exists on medical marijuana.

The DEA is also violating its own rules in leaving pot in Schedule I, the appeal states. The DEA uses an absurdly high double standard for pot scheduling compared to any other drug. Most drugs need medical experts to testify to a drug’s efficacy before approval for use, but pot must first unite the world in a “scientific consensus” before it’s reclassified.

Oral arguments in the case will occur just weeks before the presidential election, creating another prime opportunity to educate voters on the hypocrisy that perpetuates federal marijuana policy, said ASA spokesman Kris Hermes.

“I think the decades of attempts to reschedule a substance that the DEA itself has found to be medically active and not a danger to public health or a danger to patients is clearly a political issue,” Hermes said. “It’s Kafkaesque in the most excessive way.”

There’s nothing to stop the DEA from holding another petition hearing, and again ignoring the recommendations of its own judges, Hermes added. But the third denial would be a net gain for the marijuana-law-reform movement, he argued.

“The ability for the federal government to continue politicizing this issue and denying the medical evidence is going to become more and more difficult as the months and years progress,” Hermes said.