Ninth Circuit Dismisses Lawsuit Seeking DEA Review of Marijuana’s Status

The Ninth Circuit ruled to dismiss a marijuana rescheduling lawsuit against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in an Opinion filed on Monday, ruling that the DEA did not need to consider rescheduling marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, as the plaintiff requested. 

The lawsuit was filed by Suzanne Sisley, the Scottsdale Research Institute LLC, Battlefield Foundation, Lorenzo Sullivan, Kendrick Speagle, and Gary Hess. The scientists and military veterans argued that the DEA should not have denied a marijuana rescheduling petition.  They alleged that the DEA’s dismissal of that petition and others was unconstitutional and prevented research into marijuana. 

The DEA argued, however, that marijuana is still being studied and that it does not have an officially accepted value in medicine so it does not merit a review. The defendant further purported that the petitioners do not have standing and “only asserted a generalized grievance.” 

The Ninth Circuit decided in favor of the defendants, although it rejected some of their arguments, citing that the plaintiffs had not exhausted all of their administrative options before filing the lawsuit.  One judge in a concurring opinion, however, noted that the DEA may soon be forced to consider a review of marijuana’s status “in an appropriate case” citing that there had been a misinterpretation of whether the substance has medical value and that the plaintiffs arguments on this point were strong. 

According to the opinion, the plaintiffs contested the DEA’s response to a petition from Stephen Zyszkiewicz, a California prisoner, when they could have filed a petition of their own. Because they had not sought a petition for themselves with the DEA, they could not yet bring their claims to the court. 

“While it is undoubtedly true that the interests of third parties would be affected by a rescheduling of cannabis, this fact does not diminish Petitioners’ direct and particularized interest in rescheduling,” the opinion said. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Yetter Coleman and Vicente Sederberg. The defendants are represented by the U.S. Department of Justice.