WASHINGTON -- The Drug Enforcement Administration "acted arbitrarily and capriciously" in denying a petition to reclassify cannabis as a less harmful substance, a lawyer for medical marijuana advocates told a federal appeals court on Tuesday.
Arguing on behalf of Americans for Safe Access, Joseph Elford called on the court to force the DEA to reconsider its classification of cannabis as a dangerous drug without therapeutic benefits, saying the agency ignored 200 well-controlled studies showing cannabis has legitimate medical uses.
At issue is a petition filed by public interest organizations back in 2002 that requested that cannabis -- currently defined as a Schedule I drug with "a high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use in treatment" -- be reclassified. For context, heroine and LSD are classified alongside marijuana as Schedule I, while cocaine, opium and methamphetamine are classified as Schedule II, meaning they have "some accepted medical use."
Justice Department lawyer Lena Watkins said a DEA review found "no substantial evidence" of acceptable medical use, adding that the agency rejected the studies cited by Elford because they did not meet the standard of double-blind FDA approval trials. Watkins said that the results are still pending from 15 government-approved studies.
That, Elford countered, is because the agency is deliberately "stymying" research. "DEA's played a game of 'gotcha,'" he told the judges. "They won't allow additional research to be conducted."
The case, Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, was heard by a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.