NORML Joins Coalition of Advocates Suing Federal Government for Unreasonable Delay in Answering Petition to Reschedule Marijuana

Cal NORML Release May 23rd, 2011
Contact: Dale Gieringer, CaNORML 415-563-5858

Nearly nine years after filing a petition to reschedule marijuana for medical use, a coalition of advocates has filed suit in federal court to require the government to answer their petition within 60 days.

The rescheduling petition, filed to the DEA on October 9, 2002 by a coalition of groups including NORML and Cal NORML (Coalition to Reschedule Cannabis), argues that marijuana has “accepted medical use” and should therefore be removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The petition was filed following the passage of Prop. 215 and half a dozen other state medical marijuana laws. Marijuana’s schedule one status – meaning no federally accepted medical use – has been a fundamental reason for the ongoing conflict between state and federal marijuana laws. Today’s lawsuit, filed in the DC District Court of Appeals, argues that the government has unreasonably delayed in responding to the petition.

During the nine years since the petition was filed, nine more states have moved to legalize medical use of marijuana; California’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research has completed five FDA studies showing marijuana to be medically effective for neuropathic pain and multiple sclerosis; and the DEA has acted to thwart FDA development of marijuana by refusing to issue a license to the University of Massachusetts to establish a garden to conduct FDA-approved medical marijuana research.

Two years after the rescheduling petition was filed, a seriously ill California patient, Angel Raich, took a case to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that she should be legally allowed to use marijuana for her personal medical needs. Rejecting her claim, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that she should have petitioned the government saying, “FDA take this off the list…The FDA will say yes or it will say no. If it says yes, they win. If they say no, they can come right into court and say, ‘That’s an abuse of discretion.'”

Breyer was unaware that such a petition had already been submitted by the CRC two years previously (not to the FDA, but the DEA, which is the designated lead agency). That petition is still outstanding six and a half years later; in the meantime, one of the petitioners, Dr. Jay Cavanaugh, has died.

“It is unacceptable for seriously ill Americans to wait a decade for their government to even respond to their petition for legal access to medicine to relieve their pain and suffering,” remarked California NORML director Dale Gieringer. “The government’s unreasonable delay seriously impugns its competence to oversee Americans’ health care. The administration should act promptly to address its obsolete and bankrupt policy in accordance with President Obama’s pledge to put science above politics.”

NORML first filed a petition to reschedule marijuana for medical use in 1972. The DEA rejected that petition after 22 years of delay, despite findings by the DEA’s own administrative law judge that marijuana had accepted medical use. The intervening years have produced dozens of studies demonstrating that the marijuana does have medical value, and it is now being used by over one million patients in states with medical marijuana laws.

See: A copy of today’s court suit

CRC rescheduling petition

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