Veterans from across the country, united under the banner of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, have delivered a legal petition to outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that he reschedule marijuana within the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.
“We implore you to use the unequivocal authority invested in you by Congress to make this petitioned change,” the document reads.
Petitions to reschedule cannabis are nothing new. The veterans acknowledge this, noting the DEA, “has been petitioned six times and brought to the federal appeals court four times.” This time, though, the veterans placed the onus directly on the Attorney General to make the decision with respect to rescheduling cannabis, by-passing the well-established roadblock maintained by the DEA.
The vets do appear to have broken some new ground by focusing their grievances more specifically on perceived violations of several amendments to the U.S. Constitution rather than arguing scientific merit. Citing the current Veterans’ Administration (VA) policy that prohibits VA providers from “completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran’s participation in a state marijuana program,” the veterans write, “this prohibition ensures no doctor within the VA healthcare system is able to discuss the benefits and risks of this important treatment option with their patients.” That, say the petitioners, is a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.
Additionally, the petition states that veterans are denied rights secured by the Fifth Amendment (the right against self-incrimination) because the VA policy makes it clear that even cannabis possession authorized by the state in which the veteran resides will be considered a violation of federal law. Thus, a veteran will be unlikely to share information about medical cannabis use with a VA health provider.
Finally, the petition’s authors focus on the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under law.
“It’s immoral and unjust for veterans residing in ‘legal’ states to have safe access, while those living in states without medical marijuana programs face relocation or incarceration,” the petition argues. “The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law — treatment based on geographical location is not equal treatment of veterans under the law.”
The petition reminds the Attorney General of his authority and ability under law to reschedule drugs. It also summarizes the convoluted state of Controlled Substances scheduling, noting that one of the major psychoactive components of marijuana, delta-9 THC, is listed in Schedule II and the pharmaceutical drug Marinol, which is nothing more than delta-9 THC and sesame oil, is Schedule III.
The veterans signing the petition are from five states, four of which have legal medical cannabis programs. Ricardo Pereyda, an army vet from Arizona, shared that the petition idea grew from a conversation he had with Michael Krawitz, the director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis and an Air Force veteran living in Virginia.
“We were talking about the problem of scheduling and how it related to the chain of command,” he said. “It seemed backwards to us that DEA was always ruling on this when the authority is given to the AG.”
Eric Holder is well known for his more sympathetic attitudes with respect to medical cannabis. In April 2014, Holder announced the Obama Administration would look at the issue of rescheduling cannabis but “only with the support of Congress.” Eighteen members of Congress had sent a letter to Holder in February 2014 asking that he remove cannabis from Schedule I.
Holder recently announced his retirement, but remains in office while his successor prepares for congressional confirmation hearings. Whether he will be courageous enough to take action on the latest petition to reschedule cannabis remains to be seen.
Are you a veteran that uses cannabis to medicate? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.