January 10, 2001
D.C. Court of Appeals to Review Administrative Petition Challenging Pot's Prohibitive Status
Court to Decide Whether DEA Erred By Not Assessing Marijuana's Low Abuse Potential Compared to Other Drugs
Washington, DC: Oral arguments will be heard in March in the D.C. Court of Appeals to determine whether DEA officials improperly rejected a 1995 rescheduling petition filed by former NORML Director Jon Gettman challenging marijuana's legal status as a Schedule I prohibited substance.
"The DEA and HHS [US Department of Health and Human Services] did not address Gettman's principal argument that marijuana does not have a high potential for abuse as compared to other substances," argues a petition for review filed on behalf of Gettman by NORML Legal Committee member Michael Kennedy of New York City. The DEA issued a final denial of Gettman's 1995 petition on March 20, 2001.
"Specifically, HHS concluded that marijuana is structurally related to Dronabinol (the prescription drug Marinol), a Schedule III drug; Naboline, a Schedule II drug, and all other cannabinoids, which are listed as Schedule I." Gettman's original petition requested the rescheduling of all four substances, arguing that there is no scientific basis for the assertion that marijuana or any cannabinoid has a greater dependence liability or potential for abuse than Marinol, a drug the DEA recently reclassified from Schedule II to III because of its relatively low abuse potential. By definition, all Schedule I prohibited drugs must have a "high potential for abuse" and "no currently medical accepted use in treatment."
In 1999, a comprehensive review of marijuana's therapeutic potential by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine (IOM) determined that "few marijuana users develop dependence," and described the symptoms of so-called "marijuana withdrawal" to be "mild and short-lived." Authors concluded, "Except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range of effects tolerated for other medications."
"Rather than establish that marijuana has a level of abuse comparable to other Schedule I or II substances, HHS essentially concluded that it has a high potential for abuse because it is widely used, creates a hazard in some users' health, and because people are taking the substance on their own initiative," Gettman's petition for review states. "Not surprisingly, HHS provides no authority for the proposition that widespread use of a controlled substance constitutes a high potential for abuse. ... In fact, HHS conceded that marijuana has relatively low levels of toxicity and physical dependence as compared to other illicit drugs. ... At most, the HHS and DEA findings establish that marijuana has a level of abuse potential that may be sufficient for Schedule V (the lowest scheduling category, which includes prescription drugs like codeine-containing analgesics) under the Controlled Substances Act."
The D.C. Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case on March 19.
NORML filed a similar rescheduling petition with the DEA in 1972, but was not granted a federal hearing on the issue until 1986. In 1988, DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young ruled that marijuana did not meet the legal criteria of a Schedule I prohibited drug and should be reclassified. Then-DEA Administrator John Lawn rejected Young's determination, a decision the D.C. Court of Appeals eventually affirmed in 1994.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director, at (202) 483-8751 or the law offices of Michael Kennedy at (212) 935-4500.
Oakland Cannabis Cooperative Files Brief on Remand in Federal District Court Asking For Modification of 1998 Injunction
Oakland, CA: Lawyers for the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative (OCBC) have submitted a brief on remand asking a U.S. district court to modify its 1998 injunction ordering the OCBC to cease distributing medical marijuana to seriously ill patients. OCBC attorneys filed the motion this week after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to the lower court following a previous remand from the United States Supreme Court.
The OCBC argues that the 1998 injunction is unconstitutional because the OCBC's medical marijuana distribution activities involve intrastate, not interstate, commerce. Furthermore, if it is determined that the intrastate distribution of medical cannabis does substantially affect interstate commerce, the OCBC asks the court to decide whether the government may properly interfere with state sovereignty or has a compelling interest to restrict the exercise of fundamental rights, such as the amelioration of pain or the prolongation of life.
Last May, the Supreme Court determined that third-party medical marijuana dispensaries may not raise the defense of medical necessity against federal charges of manufacturing and distributing marijuana. Other issues regarding the constitutionality of the federal marijuana laws were not decided by the court in that case.
For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500 or OCBC attorney Robert Raich at (510) 338-0700.
Hemp Industry Calls On Court to Enjoin Hemp Foods Ban
San Francisco, CA: The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and seven hemp food companies filed a brief this week with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals urging the court to enjoin recently enacted DEA regulations criminalizing the possession and manufacture of any edible hemp seed or oil products that contain trace amounts of THC. The HIA is asking the court to issue an injunction preventing the DEA from enforcing the ban until the legal challenge to the regulation is concluded.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director, at (202) 483-8751 or visit: http://www.votehemp.com.
- End -