By Steve Elliott ~alapoet~ Monday, May 23, 2011, at 12:43 pm
A coalition of medical marijuana advocacy groups and patients filed suit Monday in D.C. Circuit Court to compel the Obama Administration to answer a nine-year-old petition to reclassify medical marijuana.
The Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) has never received an answer to its 2002 petition, despite a formal recommendation in 2006 from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is unfortunately the final arbiter in the rescheduling process.
As recently as July 2010, the DEA issued a 54-page "Position on Marijuana," but failed to even mention the pending CRC petition.
Plaintiffs in the case include the CRC, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), Patients Out of Time, as well as individually named patients, one of whom is listed on the CRC petition but died in 2005.
"The federal government's strategy has been delay, delay, delay," said Joe Elford, chief counsel of ASA and lead counsel on the writ. "It is far past time for the government to answer our rescheduling petition, but unfortunately we've been forced to go to court in order to get resolution."
The writ of mandamus filed on Monday accuses the government of unreasonable delay in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. A previous cannabis (marijuana) rescheduling petition filed in 1972 were unanswered for 22 years before being denied.
The writ argues that cannabis is not a dangerous drug and that ample evidence of its therapeutic value based on scientific studies in the United States and around the world.
"Despite numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies establishing the marijuana is effective" in treating numerous medical conditions, the government "continues to deprive seriously ill persons of this needed, and often life-saving therapy by maintaining marijuana as a Schedcule I substance," according to the writ.
The writ calls out the government for unlawfully failing to answer the petition despite an Inter-Agency Advisory issued by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006 and "almost five years after receiving a 41-page memorandum from HHS stating its scientific evaluation and recommendations."
The federal government maintains its Schedule I classification of marijuana even as it gives out hundreds of federal joints every month to a handful of patients -- which it has done since 1976, when it created the Investigational New Drug Compassionate Access Program.
Every month, the federal government still sends tins of 300 joints each to the four surviving patients of the original program, which suspended accepting new patients after President George H.W. Bush realized in the early 1990s that a wave of HIV/AIDS patients was on the way.
The two largest physician groups in the country -- the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians -- have both called on the federal government to review marijuana's status as a Schedule I substance with "no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."
The National Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes for Health, added cannabis to its website earlier this year as a Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) and recognized that "Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years prior to its current status as an illegal substance."
Medical marijuana has now been legalized in 16 states and the District of Columbia, and has an overwhelming 80 percent approval rating among Americans, according to several polls.
In an 1988 ruling on a prior rescheduling petition, the DEA's own Administrative Law Judge Francis Young recommended in favor of reclassification, saying "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man."
A formal rejection of the CRC petition would enable the group to challenge in court the government's assertion that marijuana has no medical value.
"Adhering to outdated public policy that ignores science has created a war zone for doctors and their patients who are seeking to use cannabis therapeutics," said Steph Sherer, executive director of ASA and a plaintiff in the writ.
"The Obama Administration's refusal to act on this petition is an irresponsible stalling tactic," added Jon Gettman, who filed the rescheduling petition on behalf of the CRC.
A synthetic form of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant, is currently classified as a Schedule III substance for its use in a prescribed pill trademarked as Marinol®. The pill goes off-patent this year and companies vying to sell generic versions are petitioning the government to also reclassify the more economical, naturally derived THC (from the plant itself) to Schedule III as well.
The rescheduling process involves federal agencies such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), HHS, and DEA. On average, it takes six months from HHS review to final action, but it's been almost five years since HHS issued its recommendation on the CRC petition -- more than twice as long as any other rescheduling petition reviewed since 2002.More InformationWrit filed today
[PDF]ASA backgrounder on rescheduling
[PDF]CRC rescheduling petition
[PDF]2006 HHS recommendation
[PDF]2010 DEA "Position on Marijuana"