(WASHINGTON) -- Although 16 states recognize marijuana as a drug with important medicinal properties, the Drug Enforcement Administration has shot down a petition to reclassify marijuana as such, citing that it has "no accepted medical use." The result is that marijuana will remain within the strictest categorization of restricted substances, alongside heroin and LSD.
"As a doctor and medical researcher, I find the DEA's decision unfortunate," said Dr. Igor Grant, a neuropsychiatrist and director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California-San Diego. "It looks like they underplayed what positive information there is in the literature about marijuana. This policy is guided more by certain kinds of beliefs in the dangers of marijuana, at the expense of advance of medical knowledge for patients."
The DEA's refusal, laid out in a June 21 letter from DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart to the organizations who filed the petition back in 2002, marks yet another bump in the road for patients, doctors, and activists fighting for improved access to what they deem a vitally therapeutic medication.
"The statement 'it has no accepted medical use' is simply wrong as a statement of fact," said Rob MacCoun, psychologist and professor of Law and Public Policy at University of California Berkeley Law School. "There is now considerable evidence showing medical benefits, at or exceeding standards of evidence for many other pharmaceuticals. Prescribing physicians in over a dozen states clearly see an accepted medical value for their patients."
Americans for Safe Access, one of the organizations petitioning the DEA, already has plans to appeal the decision, taking the federal government to court, and if necessary, the Supreme Court, in order to argue for the medicinal value of marijuana.
"Frankly, we're ready to go head to head with the Obama administration on this issue," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. "We have science on our side and we're hopeful the court will see it that way."
Calls made to the DEA for comment were not returned.
The original petition sent to the DEA in 2002 called for reclassifying marijuana into schedule III, IV, or V, drugs, all of which would acknowledge its potential for medical use and place its threat as a potentially harmful and/or addictive substance as less severe than class I and II drugs such as heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and morphine.
Such a change means that marijuana would remain a controlled substance, but that its use in medical contexts would not be considered illegal under federal law, as is the case now.
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