On Friday, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration finally ruled on a nine-year-old petition to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug like heroin, down to a Schedule II or III drug, which would allow for wide medical use.
That ruling: Pot will remain Schedule I, because it "has no accepted medical use."
Here's why that's a good thing for marijuana advocates.For all of the nine years that the DEA sat on its hands refusing to make a ruling on the reclassification petition, the medical-marijuana community has been left in limbo.
Without a ruling by the top illegal-substance authority in the country, there was no way to take the mountain of research that supports the wider use of medical cannabis to court and argue its merits in front of federal judges. That state of limbo is now gone. The feds have finally made clear their position on prescribed pot and their flat-earth views can now be challenged in court.
Here in Seattle, outspoken marijuana-rights attorney Doug Hiatt tells us the ruling is a "positive step forward." "The silver lining is that now we'll be able to get out of administrative agencies. When you're in an administrative hearing, the DEA's its own judge, it's a kangaroo court," he says. "Now we'll get to get the evidence out there. At least things are moving again."
Hiatt says he hopes to work on an appeal to the DEA's ruling.
Of course, this road has been traveled before. In 1972 and 1995, similar DEA reclassification denials were appealed, and the courts sided with the federal government.
A lot has happened in the last 15 years, however, and cannabis is more widely accepted as medicine than ever before.
Pot is now federally approved to treat glaucoma; it has backing as legitimate medicine from groups like the American Medical Association and the National Cancer Institute; and there are more than 50 peer-reviewed studies showing cannabis' medical value is unquestionable.
This evidence and more will be used by lawyers when they finally get to present their appeal to the DEA's ruling in federal court.
The Obama administration is certainly a roadblock to wider pot use, as the president has repeatedly gone back on his word that he would leave states alone when passing and enacting their own medical-cannabis legislation.
But as witnessed by the myriad of federal rulings handed down on the constitutionality of Obama's health-care-reform bill, presidential opinions are often (and rightfully) ignored by courts.
The bottom line is that while the DEA has certainly showed it prefers to keep its head firmly in the sand (or somewhere else, depending on whom one asks) on the issue of medical cannabis, the chance to prove how truly misguided the agency's views are is a chance that, until Friday, no one had.