Today marks the 35-year anniversary of an administrative ruling by the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Chief Administrative Law Judge determining that cannabis possesses accepted medical utility in the United States and, therefore, it ought to be available to qualified patients.

The ruling, issued on September 6, 1988 by DEA Judge Francis Young In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling determined: “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”

Young continued: “It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.”

Judge Young’s ruling was in response to an administrative petition filed in 1972 by NORML challenging marijuana’s Schedule I classification under federal law. Federal authorities initially refused to accept the petition until mandated to do so by the US Court of Appeals in 1974, and then refused to properly process it until again ordered by the Court in 1982. In 1986, 14-years after NORML filed its initial petition, the DEA finally held public hearings on the issue before Judge Young, who rendered his decision two years later.

However, then-DEA Administrator John Lawn ultimately rejected Judge Young’s determination, and in 1994, the Court of Appeals allowed Lawn’s reversal to stand – maintaining marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I prohibited substance with “no accepted medical use,” and a “lack of accepted safety … under medical supervision.”

Since that time, the agency has similarly denied three additional petitions. The most recent denial came in 2016.

Commenting on the 35-year anniversary of Judge Francis Young’s decision, NORML’s Deputy Paul Armentano said: “This anniversary is hardly an occasion for celebration. Rather, this milestone reflects the reality that advocates have been engaged in a multi-decade long struggle to compel the federal government to acknowledge the obvious: that cannabis possesses legitimate therapeutic benefits. It also highlights the fact that the federal government’s ongoing refusal to do so has been strictly a political decision. Let’s be clear. Judge Young didn’t call for ‘more research.’ Judge Young didn’t say the evidence was equivocal. Judge Young was convinced that the science and evidence available at that time made the case for cannabis to be legally available to patients nationwide. The evidence in support of this position has only grown exponentially stronger, and quite frankly undeniable, over the past three and one-half decades.”

Last week, Bloomberg News obtained a letter from a top Department of Health and Human Services official recommending that the Drug Enforcement Administration reclassify cannabis to a Schedule III controlled substance under federal law.

The letter, dated August 29th, comes ten months after the Biden administration requested “the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.” While campaigning for the Presidency, Biden repeatedly promised that he would seek to reschedule marijuana.

For more information, please see NORML’s fact-sheet, “A Brief History of Cannabis Rescheduling Petitions in the United States.”

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