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25 Years Ago: DEA’s Own Administrative Law Judge Ruled Cannabis Should Be Reclassified Under Federal Law

"By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/ Olena Simko

 
 
 
 

Friday, September 6, 2013 marks the 25-year anniversary of an administrative ruling which determined that cannabis possesses accepted medical utility and ought to be reclassified accordingly under federal law.

The ruling, issued in 1988 by US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young “ In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling,” determined: “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”

Young continued: “It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.”

Judge Young concluded: “The administrative law judge recommends that the Administrator conclude that the marijuana plant considered as a whole has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, that there is no lack of accepted safety for use of it under medical supervision and that it may lawfully be transferred from  Schedule I to Schedule II [of the federal Controlled Substances Act].”

Judge Young’s ruling was in response to an administrative petition filed in 1972 by NORML which sought to reschedule cannabis under federal law. Federal authorities initially refused to accept the petition until mandated to do so by the US Court of Appeals in 1974, and then refused to properly process it until again ordered by the Court in 1982. In 1986, 14-years after NORML filed its initial petition, the DEA finally held public hearings on the issue before Judge Young, who rendered his decision two years later.

However, then-DEA Administrator John Lawn ultimately rejected Young’s determination, and in 1994,  the Court of Appeals allowed Lawn’s reversal to stand – maintaining marijuana’s present classification as a Schedule I prohibited substance with “no accepted medical use,” and a “lack of accepted safety … under medical supervision.”

In July 2011, the DEA  rejected a separate marijuana rescheduling  petition, initially filed in 2002. This past January, a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia  affirmed the DEA’s decision, ruling that insufficient clinical studies exist to warrant a judicial review of cannabis’ federally prohibited status. Petitioners have  appealed the ruling to the US Supreme Court, which may or may not elect to review the matter.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and the co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink (Chelsea Green, 2009).