The Drug Enforcement Administration on Friday refused to relax restrictions on marijuana.
Administrator John C. Lawn, in an order published in the Federal Register, rejected a longstanding petition by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, known as NORML.
Lawn's order means that marijuana will remain under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, rather than be placed in Schedule II, as the marijuana organization had asked in its petition. Proceedings on the petition had been under way for more than three years.
The decision, which had been expected, overturns a recommendation of DEA's chief administrative law judge, Francis L. Young, who urged on Sept. 6, 1988, that marijuana be placed on the less restrictive schedule.
Marijuana has been classified as Schedule I ever since the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970. Young's recommendation would have meant that it would remain unavailable to the public but could be prescribed by doctors for limited purposes. Morphine and cocaine are on the less restrictive schedule.
Schedule I controlled substances are classified in the law as those that have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical application. Schedule II substances also have a high potential for abuse but have a limited medical use.
Donald Fiedler, national director of NORML, said the group argued in its petition that marijuana has a number of medical uses, including relief of nausea suffered by cancer victims receiving chemotherapy.
"The ruling is arbitrary and capricious because it means doctors now don't have that tool available to use marijuana as a medicine," Fiedler said. "Denying access to medicine to those who need it is hypocrisy in the worst sense."
The DEA said physicians and scientists will be able to continue to file proposals with it and with the Food and Drug Administration for further research on medical aspects of marijuana.