NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Petition to Repeal Marijuana Prohibition Filed By Jon Gettman


November 1995

A new legal challenge to marijuana's schedule I prohibited status was filed by Jon Gettman, former National Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), 1986-1989.

On July 10, 1995, Gettman filed a 55,000-word petition with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) requesting proceedings to have marijuana and all cannabinoids removed from schedules I and II of the Controlled Substances Act because they do not have the abuse potential required by statute for inclusion in those schedules.

The DEA accepted Gettman's petition for filing on July 27, 1995 and is now in the process of determining if there are sufficient grounds to initiate further proceedings. DEA accurately says his petition seeks to "remove these drugs from their respective schedules, and reschedule these drugs on the basis of evaluations by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and in accordance with existing law."

Gettman's petition details various research findings, presenting several major issues and questions that the government will have to resolve or answer:

  1. The key laboratory test for evaluating the abuse potential of a drug involves comparing how intensely animals self-administer the studied drug as compared to a standard drug like morphine. Yet research has found that unlike other schedule I drugs, animals will not self-administer marijuana or other cannabinoid drugs. Why, then, is marijuana classified as having a high potential for abuse comparable to cocaine and heroin?

  2. Obsessive self-administration of a drug is a marker of a drug's strong reinforcing properties. A biological explanation for dependence liability has been discovered in the last 10 years. Drugs with a significant potential for abuse, such as heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, alcohol, and nicotine affect the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which provides sensations of reward and influences responses. The discovery of a cannabinoid receptor system and related research suggests that marijuana does not affect dopamine production. Can the government demonstrate that marijuana use creates a severe dependency liability as we now understand it?

  3. The discoveries between 1988 and 1993 that marijuana's effects are produced by a natural receptor system in the brain contradicted the scientific hypotheses that have justified marijuana prohibition for most of the 20th century. Marijuana must now be re-evaluated in light of this scientific development, as required by the Controlled Substances Act.

  4. Cannabinoids are the family of chemicals unique to marijuana. All cannabinoids exert their effects by way of a common biological system. Can the government justify the legal manufacture and medical distribution of only one cannabinoid, THC, and subject all others, including experimental isomers and marijuana itself to the most severe regulatory control under the Controlled Substances Act, effectively barring medical research?

  5. The government cites emergency room statistics to "prove" marijuana use is a danger to public health, but this data shows that marijuana produces fewer emergency room visits than common household painkillers such as Advil®, Excedrin®, and Tylenol®.

  6. The legislative history of the Controlled Substances Act indicates that Congress intended that the benefits of drug regulation exceed the regulation's social and economic costs. These costs must be considered in decisions to regulate or prohibit availability of a drug. The costs of prohibition to therapeutic users of marijuana should be considered in policy decisions about marijuana's status under the Controlled Substances Act.

Gettman has compiled research to address these issues, and he believes these are important questions for the government to nswer. The issues he has raised roughly correspond to the statutory issues that must be a part of regulatory decisions by the DEA according to 21 U.S.C. §811 (c) of the Controlled Substances Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has ruled that abuse potential is the key criterion for scheduling marijuana (NORML v. DEA, 559 F.2d 735 (1977)).

"My understanding of the scientific literature and the case law asserts that HHS will not be able to produce a finding that marijuana has sufficient abuse potential to justify schedule I or II status," Gettman said. "I am presenting these issues to the government in a legal form which subjects their response to judicial review. I expect a lengthy and adversarial process ahead." Gettman will be represented by Michael Kennedy, a very respected New York attorney.

[In a two-part series he wrote for High Times magazine, Gettman described research by the National Institute of Mental Health that is the basis for his petition (Jon Gettman, "Marijuana and the Brain," High Times, March 1995, p. 26-29 and Jon Gettman, "The Tolerance Factor," July 1995, p. 26-29). The second of these articles is available on the High Times Web page at Two 15,000-word booklets and a press release detailing Gettman's research and petition are available from NORML. For more information, contact NORML at 1001 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 1010, Washington DC 20036, 202-483-5500.]