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The U.S. federal government ruled last week that marijuana has no accepted medical use, despite the growing body of evidence suggesting otherwise. Proponents of medical marijuana have advocated for nine years that the drug be declassified. Instead, the D.E.A. decided to leave marijuana in the same class as heroin, classifying marijuana as a “highly dangerous drug.”
This is the third time that the federal government has rejected appeals to reclassify marijuana. The first was filed in 1972 and denied 17 years later. The second was filed in 1995 and denied in 2001. Both decisions were appealed, but the courts sided with the federal government.
Worldwide research has suggested that marijuana has a number of medical uses, including treating devastating diseases like multiple sclerosis. Research has suggested that marijuana also helps ease symptoms of chemotherapy. Advocates for marijuana were critical of the ruling. However, they were pleased that the Obama administration has finally acted, allowing them to appeal to the federal courts.
The FDA’s decision came less than two months after advocates asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to force the administration to respond to their petition.”We have foiled the government’s strategy of delay, and we can now go head-to-head on the merits,” said Joe Elford, the chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access and the lead attorney on the lawsuit.
Elford and other proponents were not surprised by the decision. “It is clearly motivated by a political decision that is anti-marijuana,” he said.
In a June 21 letter to the organizations that filed the petition, DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said she rejected the request because marijuana “has a high potential for abuse,” “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” and “lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.” The letter and 37 pages of supporting documents were published Friday in the Federal Register.
The Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis filed its petition in October 2002. In 2004, the DEA asked the Department of Health and Human Services to review the science. The department recommended in 2006 that marijuana remain classified as a dangerous drug. Four and a half years then elapsed before the current administration issued a final denial.
“The regulatory process is just a time-consuming one that usually takes years to go through,” said Barbara Carreno, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration.