U.S.: 25 Years Ago, DEA's Own Judge Ruled Cannabis Should Be Reclassified Under Federal Law
By Steve Elliott
Twenty-five years ago today, on September 6, 1988, an administrative ruling determined that marijuana has accepted medicinal uses, and for that reason it ought to be reclassified under federal law.
Drug Enforcement Administration Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young, in the ruling, 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."
"It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record," Judge Young continued in the ruling, "In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling."
"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]."
The ruling was in response to an administrative petition filed by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 1972 which sought to reschedule cannabis federally, reports NORML's Paul Armentano on AlterNet. The federal government at first refused to accept the petition, until forced to do so by the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1974.
Incredibly, they then refused to properly process it until again ordered to do so by the Court in 1982. In 1986, after 14 years of foot-dragging, the DEA finally held public hearings on the issue before Judge Young, who rendered his decision two years later.
But John Lawn, then administrator of the DEA, simply rejected Judge Young's determination, and in 1994, the Court of Appeals allowed Lawn's reversal to stand, maintaining the Schedule I classification of cannabis as a prohibited substance with "no accepted medical use," and a "lack of accepted safety ... under medical supervision."
The DEA in July 2011 rejected a separate marijuana rescheduling petition, initially filed in 2002. In January, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the DEA's decision, ruling that there aren't enough clinical studies to call for a judicial review of federal marijuana prohibition.
Petitioners have appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may or may not elect to review the matter. The Supremes haven't been particularly marijuana-friendly in past decisions.