A judge in California on Wednesday denied a motion from a group of nine defendants charged with growing marijuana who were contending the federal government's classification marijuana of as one of the "most dangerous" substances is unconstitutional.
"We're clearly disappointed," Zenia Gilg, a lawyer for the growers, told The Huffington Post about U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller's ruling. "We understood from the beginning the difficult path we were on, but hoped it would turn out differently."
Mueller issued only an oral ruling Wednesday, but intends to publish her written ruling by the end of the week. Because the written ruling hasn't been issued yet, Gilg said it's unclear what steps forward she may take. She said it's possible the defendants will appeal and take the case to the state's 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mueller said she had been prepared to grant the defense's motion on marijuana's classification, but then decided against it, saying, "this is not the court and this is not the time," the Associated Press reported.
“We are pleased with the Court’s ruling today," U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner said in a statement provided to HuffPost from the Department of Justice. "The question presented in this motion was not whether marijuana should be legalized for medical or recreational use, but whether decisions concerning the status of marijuana under federal law should properly be made in accordance with the science-based scheduling process set forth in the Controlled Substances Act passed by Congress.”
The case was noteworthy because it was the first time in decades that a judge agreed to hold a hearing on the facts surrounding the federal classification of marijuana. Under the Controlled Substances Act, or CSA, the U.S. has five categories for drugs and drug ingredients. Schedule I is reserved for what the Drug Enforcement Administration considers to be the "most dangerous" drugs without currently accepted medical value. Marijuana has been classified as Schedule I for decades, alongside substances like heroin and LSD.
Last year, in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, Mueller listened to five days of testimony from doctors and scientists about marijuana's medical potential and the reasoning behind the federal government's strict ban of the plant.
Defense attorneys argued it's impossible to say marijuana has no accepted medical value, and that the federal classification of the plant is unconstitutional for several reasons: because 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes; a growing body of research exists highlighting marijuana's medical promise; and the federal view of marijuana is evolving, as evidenced by recent congressional action to limit the Department of Justice from interfering with state-legal marijuana programs.
"The federal government isn't even treating this as a most dangerous drug," Gilg said.
But federal prosecutors argued in court that rescheduling marijuana is not something that should take place in a courtroom, and that an administrative process exists for making changes to marijuana's classification. There are two main pathways to rescheduling a drug in the CSA: Congress can pass a law to amend the CSA, or the U.S. attorney general can request a review of the current science surrounding the drug, which can eventually lead to a change in policy.
Ultimately, while Mueller said Tuesday she believed all witnesses brought before the court to be credible, and noted just how much attitudes have changed regarding marijuana since the CSA first passed in 1970, she rejected the defense's assertion.
The case revolves around nine men charged in 2011 with growing hundreds of marijuana plants for what they say were medical purposes on federal and private land in the Shasta-Trinity National Forrest in Northern California. If convicted, the men face up to life in prison and a $10 million fine.
Opponents of marijuana legalization cheered the decision.
"No matter the spin from legalization advocates, the fact remains that every single major medical and scientific organization deems marijuana use to be harmful, especially to the adolescent brain," said Kevin Sabet, co-founder of anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. "This case reaffirms what we know about the science on marijuana and its harms. Judge Mueller should be commended."
Paul Armentano, deputy director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, who participated in research for the case, said his group was "disappointed" with Mueller's ultimate decision but applauded her for having the courage to hear the issue and give it careful consideration.
"It is our hope that lawmakers move expeditiously to change public policy," Armentano added. "Presently, bipartisan legislation is before the House and Senate to recognize cannabis’ therapeutic utility and to reschedule it accordingly, and we encourage members of Congress to move forward expeditiously to enact this measure.”
Armentano was referring to a historic bill introduced in March that seeks to significantly roll back the federal government's war on medical marijuana by reclassifying the drug to a less dangerous category and to protect patients and providers of medical marijuana from federal prosecution.