Federal appeals court declines to change marijuana drug classification

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official websites] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that it would not compel the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) [official website] to change the listing of marijuana as a Schedule I drug. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA) [text] permits the DEA to place narcotics into various Schedule classes and permits outside groups to request reclassification of those narcotics. Schedule I is the most restrictive classification for drugs and includes heroin. Marijuana's inclusion in this schedule means that its production, sale and consumption is largely banned by federal law, despite the growing number of states that permit its medicinal and recreational use. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) [advocacy website] requested reclassification by the DEA and filed suit in federal court when they were denied. ASA asserted that "[n]umerous peer-reviewed scientific studies demonstrate that marijuana is effective in treating various medical conditions, but the DEA simply ignores them to conclude that marijuana should remain in Schedule I." In response the court held:

[T]he parties' dispute in this case turns on the agency's interpretation of its own regulations. Petitioners construe "adequate and well-controlled studies" to mean peer-reviewed, published studies suggesting marijuana's medical efficacy. The DEA, in contrast, interprets that factor to require something more scientifically rigorous. ... The DEA's construction of its regulation is eminently reasonable. Therefore, we are obliged to defer to the agency's interpretation of "adequate and well-controlled studies."
The DEA's standard for acceptable scientific findings are similar to the evidence required by the Food and Drug Administration in New Drug Applications. In reaching its decision, the court did reject an argument by the DEA that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to pursue the case.

Marijuana [JURIST news archive] was a hot-button issue in several states in the November 6 election [JURIST report], with Washington and Colorado legalizing the drug. The Colorado initiative [Amendment 64, PDF] introduces an amendment to the state constitution, allowing adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce and privately grow up to six plants, although public use will be banned. In Oregon the Cannabis Tax Act Initiative [Measure 80, PDF] failed by approximately 55-to-45 percent [Examiner.com report] of the vote. Medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts for the first time as over 60 percent of voters approved Question 3 [Petition 11-11, PDF], an indirect initiated statute that will allow marijuana use by patients [Harvard Crimson report] with "debilitating medical conditions" and create 35 medical marijuana dispensaries. Conversely, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act [Issue 5, PDF] was rejected by voters [AP report] in that state by approximately a 52 to 48 percent margin. The measure would have allowed doctors to issue a certificate to anyone with a "qualifying medical condition" to grow, process and use marijuana. Also on the ballot in Montana was a veto referendum regarding a 2011 revision [SB 423] of a 2004 law that established medical marijuana use in the state.

 

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.