A coalition of scientists and veterans submitted a legal brief to a federal court arguing the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) restrictive classification of cannabis is unconstitutional.
The plaintiffs – Sue Sisley of the Scottsdale Research Institute, veterans Gary Hess, Kendrick Speagle and Lorenzo Sullivan and the veteran support group Battlefield Foundation – first filed their lawsuit against the DEA in May. The agency tried to dismiss the case but this was rejected by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers have now filed a comprehensive 117 page brief outlining their case. The document initially provides an historical account of marijuana’s criminalization and previous attempts to reschedule the plant before arguing that its prohibition is unconstitutional. Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act meaning under federal law it has “no currently accepted medical use.”
In constructing their argument, the lawyers focus in detail on the DEA’s rejection of petitions calling for cannabis’s rescheduling. In a display of circular reasoning, the agency justifies such moves by referring to the plant’s status as a Schedule I substance, thereby it must have no accepted medical value.
“Can DEA deny that marijuana has a ‘currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States’ when more than two-thirds of the States have enacted legislation greenlighting marijuana’s use as medicine?” the lawyer’s brief reads. “The unambiguous text of [federal statute], canons of construction, the [Controlled Substances Act’s] history and purpose, and common sense all converge on a single, resounding answer: ‘No.’”
The second argument put forth by the plaintiffs’ attorneys contends the DEA’s assertion that marijuana must be a Schedule I or II controlled substance is unconstitutional since it “delegates legislative power twice: first to a non-governmental entity and second to the Attorney General.”
This “non-governmental entity” refers to international treaties, which the DEA and the Department of Justice have indicated compels them to maintain marijuana’s restrictive classification.
The attorneys then ask the court to instruct the DEA to establish new rules on cannabis’ scheduling within a year which must not deny “that marijuana has a currently accepted medical use in the face of widespread State acceptance.”
The plaintiffs’ attorneys believe if the DEA is ordered to craft new rules on marijuana as a controlled substance, it will be compelled to take into consideration the advice of a multitude of experts and stakeholders. This will furnish the rulemaking process with various arguments and empirical evidence detailing the incoherence of classifying cannabis as a Schedule I or even a Schedule II substance.
The plaintiffs have been a thorn in the side of the DEA for some time now. Prior to the this lawsuit, Sue Sisley of the Scottsdale Research Institute sued the agency for its years of inaction after assuring scientists it would consider applications to grow marijuana for research purposes. The DEA claimed the delay in accepting applications was due to a “secret memo” from the DOJ that claimed the US was failing to meet its international drug treaty obligations with regards to marijuana. The DEA announced new rules to expand marijuana research opportunities earlier this year but the agency’s solution is to assume control and ownership over cannabis production and distribution systems in the US rather than reclassifying the plant.
And scientists and military veterans aren’t the only ones taking the DEA to court over its intransigent stance on marijuana. A coalition of medical cannabis patients and advocates filed a petition with the US Supreme Court against the DEA in August declaring marijuana prohibition to be unconstitutional.
The DEA is due to file its response to the brief brought forward by Sue Sisley, Battlefield Foundation, Gary Hess, Kendrick Speagle and Lorenzo Sullivan by late November.