Federal Appeals Court to Consider Medical Uses of Cannabis

Challenge to denial of rescheduling petition to be heard this month

For the first time in nearly 20 years, a federal court will consider whether cannabis has medical uses. Patient advocates are appealing the federal government’s refusal to change the classification of cannabis to reflect new research on its role in treatment.

On October 16, ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford will appear before the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to argue that the Drug Enforcement Administration wrongfully denied the petition from the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC), of which ASA is a member.

“The current classification of cannabis is based more on politics than science,” said Elford. “This is an historic opportunity for patients and doctors to confront politically motivated decision-making with the scientific evidence that cannabis is a safe, effective medicine that can meet the needs of millions of patients.”

ASA will argue that the DEA deviated from its normal review procedures, applied the wrong evaluative standards, and ignored hundreds of scientific studies and expert medical opinion in denying the latest petition. Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration is the first case to bring recent scientific research on the medical uses of cannabis before the federal courts.

Cannabis was classified by Congress in 1970 as a Schedule I substance, defining it as a dangerous drug with a high potential for abuse and no current use in medical treatment. Federal hearings in 1988 on its classification concluded with the DEA’s Chief Administrative Law Judge ruling that the medical uses were proven, the safety record unparalleled, and that continuing to deny patients access would be “arbitrary and capricious.” His decision was set aside on procedural grounds. A 1995 petition to the DEA for review was also denied.

Hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific articles published in the past 20 years have described the effectiveness of cannabis in treating serious medical conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, arthritis, and others. Dozens of professional medical organizations — including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and the American Public Health Association – have called on the federal government to make cannabis available for research and treatment.

More information:
D.C. Circuit announcement of oral arguments
ASA appeal brief
DEA denial of CRC petition
CRC rescheduling petition