Medical marijuana backers ask judges for looser regulation

Marijuana is weighed and packaged for sale at Marijuana is weighed and packaged for sale at the Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary, in Seattle. (Oct. 10, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ignored research showing marijuana had legitimate medical uses when it rejected efforts to reclassify the drug as a less harmful substance last year, a lawyer for medical marijuana backers told a federal appeals court.

Joseph Elford, a lawyer for Americans for Safe Access, asked a three-judge panel in Washington today to order the DEA to reconsider its decision to keep marijuana a Schedule I narcotic, saying the agency's ruling that there are no scientific studies finding an acceptable medical use was arbitrary and capricious.

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"There are over 200 studies that are adequate and well-controlled studies," Elford told the judges.

The case involves an 10-year-old petition from medical marijuana advocates who asked the DEA to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III, IV or V drug, which would allow for looser regulation. On June 21, 2011, the DEA rejected the request, stating that existing clinical evidence wasn't adequate to warrant reclassification.

The judges questioned whether the medical marijuana patients and the advocacy group had the authority to challenge the DEA's decision. U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland said the court has limited authority to review it as long as the agency made a proper showing of support for it.

"I'm trying to figure out what our standard of review is," Garland asked a lawyer for the Justice Department. "Is there evidence to support the administration's position that there is no substantial evidence? That sounds funny." Lena Watkins, a lawyer for the Justice Department, said the studies cited by the marijuana proponents were rejected because the research didn't meet government standards. She said about 15 studies meet the standards, though the government doesn't have the final results yet.

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The case is Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, 11-1265, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).

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