In October of last year, federal Judge Kimberly Mueller heard four days of testimony about whether or not marijuana should be classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. The feds argued that marijuana has no medical value, which is one of the descriptions for Schedule I substances according to the Controlled Substances Act. The reform side brought up actual scientists, like Dr. Carl Hart. Dr. Carl Hart is an associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University. Mr. Hart stated the following, according to Smell the Truth:
“[I]t is my considered opinion that including marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is counter to all the scientific evidence in a society that uses and values empirical evidence,” Dr. Hart declared. “After two decades of intense scientific inquiry in this area, it has become apparent the current scheduling of cannabis has no footing in the realities of science and neurobiology.”
The decision was delayed, fueling speculation that the ruling would be favorable to rescheduling. Jeremy Daw (The Leaf Online) recently wrote an article for Alternet, in which he made some very interesting observations in the case relating to the delayed ruling:
Based on Mueller’s comments from the bench, combined with the pattern of delays in constructing her legal theory of the case, it appears unlikely that this judge will dispose of this question on purely procedural grounds. On the final day of oral argument in the case, for example, Judge Mueller posed a hypothetical to the attorneys in the case. “Suppose I reach a decision on the merits,” she said, “using either the rational basis standard or what one judge has called ‘rational basis with bite.'” It’s one of the only clues of her intent from an otherwise poker-faced judge.
The repeated delays in the written argument phase — three now — also favor a decision on the merits. While written opinions on standing can be as arcane as any other topic of law (if not more so), the area of law applying standing to drug law cases is relatively well-developed compared to the novel — indeed, historic — question posed by the merits: is keeping cannabis in Schedule I so out of step with reality as to be unconstitutional?
Finally, judicial economy must be considered. The dockets of federal judges are famously crowded; it makes little sense to devote five days of extremely valuable court time to establishing evidence relevant to the merits of the case if one didn’t intend to decide the case on the merits.
Unfortunately the ruling did not come back favorable. Judge Mueller alluded to a day when marijuana would be rescheduled, but said that the day would not come in her court, at least not now. Per NORML:
Judge Kimberly J. Mueller of the Federal District Court in Sacramento, California issued her oral ruling during a 15-minute court hearing today. Judge Mueller heard closing arguments in the case in early February but had postponed her decision on several occasions. Her written opinion is not yet available but is expected to be posted publicly by week’s end.
“At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional,” Judge Mueller said from the bench. “But this is not the court and not the time.”
Defense counsel intends to appeal the ruling.
California NORML posted the following response on their website:
“We’re glad that the court heard this matter and hope that Congress will take the issue up,” said Dale Gieringer of California NORML, who has been party to a rescheduling suit in recent years. NORML has been challenging marijuana’s Schedule One status since the 1970s, and Americans for Safe Access has also challenged it, unsuccessfully.
Paul Armentano, NORML’s deputy director who participated in research for the case, said, “We applaud Judge Mueller for having the courage to hear this issue and provide it the careful consideration it deserves. While we are disappointed with this ruling, it changes little. We always felt this had to ultimately be decided by the Ninth Circuit and we have an unprecedented record for the court to consider.
“In the interim, it is our hope that lawmakers move expeditiously to change public policy. Presently, bipartisan legislation is before the House and Senate to recognize cannabis’ therapeutic utility and to reschedule it accordingly and we encourage members of Congress to move forward expeditiously to enact this measure.”
It’s unfortunate that Judge Mueller didn’t have the courage to do whats right. Instead she punted the issue to Congress, which is exactly what the Obama Administration has done. When will we see marijuana removed from the Schedule I classification? Will Congress ever get it in gear? What are the odds of winning an appeal to this ruling? Only time will tell.