Medical marijuana suffered a legal setback today when the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against an effort to try to get marijuana rescheduled.
Under federal law marijuana is still classified as schedule I meaning it has no accepted medical value. That is why it is illegal to prescribe or take it as medicine under federal law. Individuals though are allowed to petition the executive branch about rescheduling a drug based on new scientific research. The executive branch has the legal authority to change any drugs classification without the need for Congressional approval.
So far every such petition regarding marijuana has been rejected by the government with the most recent rejection in 2011. In response Americans for Safe Access and medical marijuana patients filed suit arguing the Drug Enforcement Agency was ignoring the scientific evidence.
While the court ruled that defendants in the case did have standing to bring the suit they concluded that the DEA acted within its authority. The DEA’s actions did not meet the arbitrary and capricious standard. From the Court:
On the merits, the question before the court is not whether marijuana could have some medical benefits. Rather, the limited question that we address is whether the DEA’s decision declining to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana under the CSA was arbitrary and capricious. These questions are not coterminous. “The scope of review under the ‘arbitrary and capricious’ standard is narrow and a court is not to substitute its judgment for that of the agency.” Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n of the U.S., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983). On the record before us, we hold that the DEA’s denial of the rescheduling petition survives review under the deferential arbitrary and capricious standard. The petition asks the DEA to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III, IV, or V drug, which, under the terms of the CSA, requires a “currently accepted medical use.” The DEA’s regulations, which we approved in Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics v. DEA, 15 F.3d 1131 (D.C. Cir. 1994), define “currently accepted medical use” to require, inter alia, “adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy.” Id. at 1135. We defer to the agency’s interpretation of these regulations and find that substantial evidence supports its determination that such studies do not exist.
With the court deciding not act it appears that it ultimately up to Obama administration whether or not change marijuana’s legal status to permit medical marijuana under federal law.
The Obama administration can choose to do so at anytime. Since the last petition was rejected in 2011, governors of several states with medical marijuana laws have already filed new petitions requesting the federal government move marijuana to a lower schedule.