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Federal Court May Force DEA To Reschedule Cannabis

Sarah Hayes
cannabis, medical cannabis, weed, bud, flower, dank, federal court, reschedule, DEA, appeal

Will the DEA be forced to reschedule cannabis?

The case serves to pressure the DEA to “act promptly” on rescheduling cannabis if formally asked to consider the issue. The plaintiffs argue that the current scheduling of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act causes harm to patients who rely on the plant.

In 2017, a group of patients and advocates filed a US District Court lawsuit against the Department of Justice. The lawsuit argues that the Schedule I classification of cannabis poses both serious health risks and economic disadvantages.

The District Court threw out the case, backing the current scheduling of cannabis and dismissing plaintiffs’ claims. The Court argued that the plaintiffs should have tried to change the law through administrative action before bringing their case to Federal Court.

Now, the US Court of Appeals has tabled an appeal for the Second Circuit. The Federal Court agreed that administrative action was more appropriate than judicial. But they also agreed that special circumstances applied in this case. The special circumstances that have swayed opinion are the inclusion of two children on the plaintiff. The families are arguing that the current scheduling of cannabis jeopardizes their children’s health.

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Federal Court Shifts Opinion on Cannabis Case

The court stated that the case was “unusual.”

They believe it to be so because “among the Plaintiffs are individuals who plausibly allege that the current scheduling of marijuana poses a serious, life‐or‐death threat to their health.” 

While the government, including the courts, have a historical held a rigid stance on cannabis, new research on its medical uses has drastically shifted public opinion. Plaintiffs claim that cannabis has made their pain manageable, reduced seizures, and extended their lives.

The court elaborated on the empathetic draw of the case in a statement about the majority’s decision. US Circuit Judge Guido Calabresi wrote of the plaintiffs’ claims: “Plaintiffs should not be required to live indefinitely with uncertainty about their access to allegedly life-saving medication or live in fear that pursuing such medical treatment may subject them or their loved ones to devastating consequences.”

This, along with the famously glacial pace of legislation, ultimately led the Appeals Court to accept the case. Calabresi wrote in the majority’s statement: “[W]e are troubled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s history of dilatory proceedings. Accordingly, while we concur with the District Court’s ruling, we do not dismiss the case, but rather hold it in abeyance and retain jurisdiction in this panel to take whatever action might become appropriate if the DEA does not act with adequate dispatch.”

In short, the Federal Court’s decision does not mean immediate action on the rescheduling of cannabis. The court has also made clear that it holds, “no view whatever on the merits of Plaintiffs’ case—that is, on whether marijuana should be listed or not.” However, their ruling does keep the case open for the court to take action if the DEA does not consider the rescheduling of cannabis within a reasonable time frame.

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What This Decision Means for Cannabis Rescheduling

As it is, judicial action may not be necessary. The court stated that, “It is conceivable that, in response to a petition from Plaintiffs along the lines advanced before us now, the DEA would reschedule marijuana, rendering the current case moot. And if the DEA did not, the administrative process would generate a comprehensive record that would aid in eventual judicial review.”

There have been several court cases that have attempted to prompt the federal rescheduling of cannabis on a federal level. Yet this is the first to garner a positive outcome. While refraining from taking an official stance on cannabis, the court’s response indicates a shift in the official opinion.

In the majority’s statement Calabresi wrote, “It is possible that the current law, though rational once, is now heading towards irrationality; it may even conceivably be that it has gotten there already.”

However, the statement also acknowledges that an overruling by the court is not the best approach in this case. In the statement, Calabresi continued, “Courts are not especially good at dealing with situations of this sort by themselves. In such circumstances, dialogue between courts and other law‐defining institutions, like agencies, often works best.”

This is fair. The court ruling signals a shift, but it cannot reschedule cannabis on its own. 

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Likely Movement on Cannabis Legislation in Coming Months

Joseph A. Bondy worked pro bono on the case and will be petitioning the DEA for a cannabis rescheduling. While petitions like this typically take years to deliver, Bondy said he felt optimistic following the Federal court’s decision.

“We are on the right side of this issue—the advocates, the activists—pursuing things like social equity, the right to medicate yourself with cannabis, the right to travel with cannabis, the right to decide what you’re going to do with your body,” Bondy told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview.

US citizens will surely see this issue play out in the press over coming months. The pressure to reschedule cannabis is increasing. Fortunately, the outcome of this case may help to change the future of the plant for good.

Sarah Hayes

Sarah is an American expat living in Spain with her husband and little doggie. She comes from a performing arts and teaching background with a degree from the University of London. For the past 3 years Sarah has worked in and written about the legal cannabis industry both in Spain and the US. She cares about sharing her passion for cannabis, yoga, healthy lifestyles, counterculture and travel trough writing and social media.

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