In a major blow to the nation's budding medical marijuana industry (pun intended), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration released a decision yesterday claiming that marijuana has no, repeat no, medical uses and arguing that it be reclassified as an illegal substance. (The government's opinion is that it be lumped with drugs such as LSD and heroin, which have no medical uses; cocaine, for instance, is in a lesser category; though it is worth pointing out that synthetic forms of marijuana are federally approved in treating conditions like glaucoma.) Despite the immediate setback, many medical marijuana supporters seem happy to at least know where things stand — this ruling has been nine years in the offing, since a petition was submitted in 2002. Advocates now plan to appeal to the federal courts.
Over the past several years, sixteen states, including California and Rhode Island, along with the District of Columbia, have passed laws (often through ballot initiatives) allowing for use of cannabis on a medical basis. This has created a shifty gray area for many medical marijuana dispensaries who now find themselves in the crosshairs, following a memo from the Justice Department two weeks ago advising U.S. district attorneys to go after large-scale cultivators and distributors. The memo also targets medical marijuana users, saying even they are not above the law, though it seems hard to imagine the Obama Administration going after cancer patients and people suffering from chronic pain. As far as the pending appeal goes, the past two times advocates tried getting marijuana reclassified, the courts sided with the government. Third time's the charm?