41 years ago, when the U.S. Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, and included marijuana on its list of “Schedule I” drugs – the most restrictive of the five drug “categories,” some officials questioned that classification. As early as 1972, a commission was recommending the decriminalization of the drug, and in 1988 an administrative law judge with the DEA found that, “…marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people.” Even the National Cancer Institute, hardly the country’s most liberal institution, and one which falls under the aegis of the Department of Health and Human Services, notes in their official literature that marijuana may alleviate the insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea and pain associated with the disease.
For roughly nine years, supporters of medical marijuana have asked – even begged – the U.S. government to reclassify cannabis. They’ve pointed to growing amounts of research from around the world that shows the effectiveness of cannabis in treating diseases like glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.
Knowing all this it is both shocking and sad that last Friday, July 9th, the Federal government announced its ruling that marijuana has no accepted medical use and should remain in the same classification as highly dangerous drugs like heroin.
And yet, this ruling is not all bad. Why not? Because a ruling can be appealed in the federal courts, the previous state – of an unanswered petition for change – could not be fought.
Joe Elford, the chief counsel for the Americans for Safe Access, and the lead attorney on the lawsuit, was not surprised by the decision given the Obama administrations recent announcement that was would be acting against large-scale commercial cannabis cultivation.
Of the decision, he said, “It is clearly motivated by a political decision that is anti-marijuana,” he said. He noted that studies demonstrate pot has beneficial effects, including appetite stimulation for people undergoing chemotherapy. “One of the things people say about marijuana is that it gives you the munchies and the truth is that it does, and for some people that’s a very positive thing.”
This is actually the third time petitions to reclassify marijuana have been denied. The first was filed in 1972, but wasn’t denied until 1989. The second was filed in 1995, and denied in 2001. Both of these decisions were appealed, with the courts taking the federal government’s side.
The petition denied on Friday was filed by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis in October, 2002. Two years later, the DEA asked the Department of Health and Human Services to review the scientific literature on the subject. In 2006, the department recommended that the existing classification stand, but it took another four and a half years before a final denial was issued.
And yet, researchers continue to find and confirm beneficial effects of cannabis. Dr. Igor Grant, a neuropsychiatrist who directs UC San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research said clinical trials demonstrate that marijuana eases neuropathic pain and muscle spasticity. Grant said that the federal government’s position is discouraging scientists from pursuing more research about the drug. He told the press, “We’re trapped in kind of a vicious cycle here,” he said. “It’s always a danger if the government acts on certain kinds of persuasions or beliefs rather than evidence.”