The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford 415-573-7842 or ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes 510-681-6361

Advocates Appeal Marijuana's Federal Status as a Dangerous Drug with No Medical Value to U.S. Supreme Court

Patient advocacy group argues that over 200 peer-reviewed studies are more than adequate to show medical efficacy


Medical marijuana patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed a petition for writ of certiorari today with the U.S. Supreme Court to appeal a January Circuit Court decision that maintained marijuana's current federal status as one of the most dangerous drugs with no medical value. In the widely watched case ASA v. Drug Enforcement Administration, petitioners are challenging an unreasonable and unprecedented standard set by the District of Columbia Circuit, which also creates a federal appellate split on what constitutes proof of medical efficacy.

"To deny that sufficient evidence is lacking on the medical efficacy of marijuana is to ignore a mountain of well-documented studies that conclude otherwise," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who argued the appeal before the D.C. Circuit in October of last year. "The Court has unreasonably raised the bar for what qualifies as an 'adequate and well-controlled' study, thereby continuing the government's game of 'Gotcha.'"

On January 22nd, the D.C. Circuit granted plaintiffs standing -- the right to sue the federal government to reclassify marijuana -- but, in a 2-1 ruling, denied the appeal on the merits by setting a new, virtually-impossible to meet standard for assessing medical efficacy. Although ASA cited more than 200 peer-reviewed studies in its appeal, the D.C. Circuit held that plaintiffs must produce evidence from Phase II and Phase III clinical trials -- usually reserved for companies trying to bring a new drug to market -- in order to show marijuana's medical efficacy.

This new standard set by the D.C. Circuit creates an appellate split with the First Circuit in Grinspoon v. DEA, 828 F.2d 881 (1st Cir. 1987), which held the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) cannot treat a lack of FDA marketing approval as conclusive evidence that a substance has no "currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." The Grinspoon Court also held that for some drugs (like smoked marijuana) "there is no economic or other incentive to seek interstate marketing approval...because [they] cannot be patented and exploited commercially." The D.C. Circuit's standard not only conflicts with Grinspoon, however, it also sets such a stringent requirement on proving medical efficacy that future petitions to reschedule -- such as those filed in 2011 by the governors of four states (CO, RI, VT, and WA) -- will likely face similar uphill battles.

In 2002, the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, made up of several individuals and organizations including ASA, filed a petition to reclassify marijuana for medical use. That petition was denied by the DEA in July 2011. The appeal to the D.C. Circuit was the first time in nearly 20 years that a federal court has reviewed the issue of whether adequate scientific evidence exists to reclassify marijuana. Before the January ruling, the D.C. Circuit had never granted plaintiffs the right to sue when seeking reclassification of marijuana.

"The Obama Administration's legal efforts are keeping marijuana out of reach for millions of qualified patients who would benefit from its use," continued Elford. "It's long past time for the federal government to change our country's harmful policy on medical marijuana, and if it must be compelled to do so by the courts then so be it." Over the past decade, an even greater number of scientific studies have been conducted clearly showing the medical efficacy of marijuana, and national polls have consistently ranked popular support for medical marijuana at around 80 percent.

Today's filing comes at the height of federal attacks against state law-compliant medical marijuana cultivators and distributors. A recent report issued by ASA claimed that the Obama Administration spent nearly $300 million over the past four years on aggressive enforcement practices in medical marijuana states. ASA has also launched a campaign calling for Peace for Patients in an effort to restrict Justice Department funding and curtail continued attacks on medical marijuana patient and their providers.

Further information:
ASA petition for writ of certiorari:
D.C. Circuit decision:
2002 CRC rescheduling petition:

Americans for Safe Access is the nation's largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.