The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled on January 22, 2013, in the case of Americans for Safe Access vs. DEA to agree with lower courts that “adequate and well-controlled studies” do not exist to support the legitimacy of medical marijuana. The Court’s opinion begins with:
There is a serious debate in the United States over the efficacy of marijuana for medicinal uses. Although marijuana has been legalized in a number of states, it is classified as a “Schedule I” drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), pursuant to its authority under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (“CSA” or “Act”). The DEA has maintained this listing because it has determined that marijuana “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” 21 U.S.C. § 812(b)(1)(B). Because Schedule I is the most restricted drug classification under the CSA, the production, sale, and use of marijuana are largely banned by federal law. Petitioners in this case – Americans for Safe Access, the Coalition to Reschedule Cannabis, Patients Out of Time, and several individuals – challenge DEA’s denial of its petition to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana.
The CSA permits the DEA to reclassify drugs to less restrictive schedules according to various statutory criteria, and interested parties can petition the DEA for such action. See 21 U.S.C. §§ 811, 812. In October 2002, the Coalition to Reschedule Cannabis petitioned the DEA to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule III, IV, or V drug. See Denial of Petition to Initiate Proceedings to Reschedule Marijuana (“Denial”), 76 Fed. Reg. 40,552, 40,552 (July 8, 2011). The DEA denied the petition on July 8, 2011, finding that “[t]here is no currently accepted medical use for marijuana in the United States,” and that “[t]he limited existing clinical evidence is not adequate to warrant rescheduling of marijuana under the CSA.” Id. at 40,552, 40,567. On July 22, 2011, Petitioners filed a timely petition for review of the DEA action.
Petitioners claim that “[n]umerous peer-reviewed scientific studies demonstrate that marijuana is effective in treating various medical conditions, but the DEA simply ignores them to conclude that marijuana should remain in Schedule I.” Pet’rs’ Br. at 20. Petitioners thus contend that the DEA’s denial of their petition was arbitrary and capricious and ask this court to remand the case to the agency for further consideration.
The Government, in turn, argues that we should dismiss the petition for review on jurisdictional grounds because Petitioners and Intervenor lack Article III standing. The Government also asserts that, even if the court determines that Petitioners or Intervenor have standing, the petition for review should be denied on the merits. According to the Government, in the record reviewed by the DEA, “there was no available evidence of adequate, well-controlled studies demonstrating marijuana’s safety and effectiveness as a medicine and no consensus among experts as to these issues. The enactment of state laws allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes did not constitute the required science-based evidence.” Br. for Resp’t at 23.
We deny the Government’s jurisdictional challenge because we find that at least one of the named Petitioners, Michael Krawitz, has standing to challenge the agency’s action. Krawitz, who is a disabled veteran, is entitled to medical care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”). Krawitz has suffered injury-in-fact because he must shoulder a financial cost for services he could otherwise obtain free of charge from the VA. There is a causal connection between the DEA’s continuing decision to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug and the VA’s policy of refusing to provide referrals for state medical marijuana programs. And a favorable decision from this court would likely redress Krawitz’s injury because, if the DEA rescheduled marijuana, the VA could no longer use the CSA to justify its policy of refusing to complete medical marijuana referral forms. Krawitz thus satisfies the requirements of Article III standing. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992).
On the merits, the question before the court is not whether marijuana could have some medical benefits. Rather, the limited question that we address is whether the DEA’s decision declining to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana under the CSA was arbitrary and capricious. These questions are not coterminous. “The scope of review under the ‘arbitrary and capricious’ standard is narrow and a court is not to substitute its judgment for that of the agency.” Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n of the U.S., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983). On the record before us, we hold that the DEA’s denial of the rescheduling petition survives review under the deferential arbitrary and capricious standard. The petition asks the DEA to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III, IV, or V drug, which, under the terms of the CSA, requires a “currently accepted medical use.” The DEA’s regulations, which we approved in Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics v. DEA, 15 F.3d 1131 (D.C. Cir. 1994), define “currently accepted medical use” to require, inter alia, “adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy.” Id. at 1135. We defer to the agency’s interpretation of these regulations and find that substantial evidence supports its determination that such studies do not exist.
The chief counsel for plaintiff Americans for Safe Access, Joe Elford, said:
To deny that sufficient evidence is lacking on the medical efficacy of marijuana is to ignore a mountain of well-documented studies that conclude otherwise. The Court has unfortunately agreed with the Obama Administration’s unreasonably raised bar on what qualifies as an ‘adequate and well-controlled’ study, thereby continuing their game of ‘Gotcha.’