Finally this week, in a move aimed at shifting national drug policies but inspired by the federal offensive against medical marijuana in California, a coalition of groups advocating for medical marijuana has refiled a petition asking the DEA to reschedule marijuana as a drug with medical applications. Virginia resident Jon Gettman and High Times magazine filed the original petition in 1995, but after years of administrative and legal limbo, it was dismissed on the grounds that Gettman and High Times lacked standing to seek rescheduling because they could not show they had been harmed by marijuana being labeled a Schedule I drug, one with no medical uses and a high danger of abuse.
The Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis is comprised of the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, Americans for Safe Access, California NORML, the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, Gettman, High Times, Iowans for Medical Marijuana, the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, national NORML, the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, Patients Out of Time and several individuals. In a press release announcing the renewed effort, the Coalition wrote: "This petition seeks to have marijuana removed from schedule I and placed in a less restrictive schedule that provides for medical use based on a doctor's prescription. If successful, this petition would also eliminate the clash between federal law and the laws of states that accept and recognize the medical use of cannabis."
While the original Gettman-High Times petition was shot down for lack of standing, the coalition was created to address that problem head on. "This petition is being filed by a coalition of interested parties including nonprofit organizations and individual citizens," said the coalition. "The memberships of these organizations and these individual citizens have various interests in the appropriate scheduling of cannabis under federal law, including but not limited to an interest in legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use based on existing medical conditions."
The coalition rescheduling petition argues that the scientific arguments for marijuana as medicine have never been reviewed by the DEA, which by statute sets drug schedules. "In their review of the Gettman petition neither DEA nor HHS gave any consideration to marijuana's medical use, its safety for use, its relative abuse potential or its relative dependence liability, as called for by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This petition addresses all of these relevant issues."
Petitioners will argue that recent advances in the understanding of medical marijuana render invalid its classification as a drug with no accepted medical value. "Key developments in the assessment of marijuana's medical use include: acceptance of marijuana's medical use by health care professionals; recognition of marijuana as a medicine of last resort by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences; recognition of the therapeutic properties of cannabinoids by the scientific community and health care providers; the emergence of basic research explaining the mode of action of cannabis-based medicines; the emergence of clinical research on the medical use of cannabis; and acceptance of marijuana's medical use by eight states. These developments contradict the [current] classification of marijuana as having no accepted medical use in the United States."
Despite having science on their side, petitioners expect the DEA to deny the petition. "We have all the latest information, but regardless of that the DEA will still turn us down," said Jay Cavanaugh, head of the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis. "Then we will appeal in federal court on the grounds that the DEA is violating its own laws," he told DRCNet. "The Controlled Substances Act is very clear about the process of drug scheduling. If the DEA follows the law, which I don't expect, they must reschedule. If they don't follow the law, they will be overturned on appeal."
Cavanaugh told DRCNet a member of his group, Laura "LJ" Carden, had prompted the renewed rescheduling effort. "She asked whatever happened to the Gettman petition and I told her he lacked standing," said Cavanaugh. "She said, 'We don't lack standing, why don't we do it.' She was right, we e-mailed Jon and he got excited, then Al Byrne from Patients Out of Time jumped in, and off we went. You want people with standing? We have patients with extensive medical records."
The rescheduling effort is part of a multi-pronged strategy, said Cavanaugh. "You have this, you have the Oakland lawsuit, and there will be more cases," he said. "The federal government is going to be running around putting out fires. This is a well-planned, carefully thought-out strategy."
Cavanaugh told DRCNet California Attorney General Bill Lockyer needs to act more aggressively, perhaps by filing a brief in support of the Oakland lawsuit or, better yet, filing a similar suit on behalf of the state of California.
If state officials fail to protect medical marijuana patients and providers, trouble could be brewing, he said. "Lockyer needs to act or the moderates are going to be pushed into the hands of folks feeling much more extreme," Cavanaugh warned, adding that even within his own group people were asking what was the good of cooperation with state officials. "As leaders, we risk losing our base unless the people we are working with can deliver some relief," he said. "That would be a real tragedy."
Cavanaugh noted a tactical split between his group and more confrontational groups, such as Americans for Safe Access, which has led street demonstrations and civil disobedience actions. For ASA's Hilary McQuie it's a matter of defending California patients and patience is growing thin. "When they raided the 6th Street dispensary in February, nothing happened," she told DRCNet. "But look at the response when the raided WAMM. The more the DEA pushes us, the more we push back."
Now the DEA and the Justice Department are starting to get pushed from many different directions. One day they might begin to notice.