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United States v. Nasir

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

September 25, 2013



JOSEPH M. HOOD, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss Indictment for the DEA's failure to properly schedule JWH-018 filed by Nawaz Khan [DE 223] and Seth Johnston [DE 219] and joined by Zafar Nasir [DE 228], Soha Aljenabi [DE 224], and Asim Malik [DE 226]. The government has responded [DE 235]. Johnston has filed a reply [DE 238]. Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for review.

Defendants argue that they cannot be held criminally liable for distribution of the synthetic cannabinoids JWH-122 and AM 2201, as analogues of the substance JWH-018 because JWH-018 was not properly scheduled as a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Specifically, Defendants concede that the DEA followed the proper procedures under 21 U.S.C. § 811(h) for the emergency scheduling of JWH-018, but argue that the DEA's failure to comply with the Congressional Review Act (CRA) during that process meant that the rule scheduling JWH-018 did not go into effect. The Court agrees with the government that the DEA complied with the CRA when JWH-018 was scheduled. Accordingly, for the reasons fully described herein, Defendants' motion will be denied.

I. Background

a. The Congressional Review Act

The Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996, 5 U.S.C. §§ 801-808, more commonly known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA), "requires congressional review of agency regulations by directing agencies to submit the rule before it takes effect to the Comptroller General and each house of Congress." Liesegang v. Sec'y of Veterans Affairs, 312 F.3d 1368, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2002). Regulations that qualify as a "major rule" are subject to additional conditions but for non-major rules, such as the one at issue, notice is all that is required.[1]

b. The Controlled Substances Act

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) classifies into five "schedules" those drugs and other substances that have a "potential for abuse." 21 U.S.C. § 812(b)(1)-(5). Drugs in Schedule I are subject to the strictest controls, and violations involving Schedule I substances are subject to the most severe penalties because they are believed to present the most serious threat to public safety. Touby v. United States, 500 U.S. 160, 162 (1991). Schedule I drugs (1) have "a high potential for abuse, " (2) do not have a "currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, " and (3) lack "accepted safety for use... under medical supervision." 21 U.S.C. § 812(b)(1).

The DEA may control a drug by adding it to one of the schedules, transferring it between schedules, or removing a drug from the schedules altogether.[2] 21 U.S.C. §§ 802(5), 811(a). Typically, the DEA controls a substance with a potential for abuse by making "the findings prescribed by [21 U.S.C. § 812(b)] for the schedule in which [the] drug is to be placed[.]" 21 U.S.C. § 811(a)(1). Prior to initiating rulemaking, the DEA must gather "the necessary data" and request a scientific and medical evaluation and recommendation as to whether the drug should be controlled from the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 21 U.S.C. § 811(b). The Secretary's recommendations are binding on the DEA with respect to scientific and medical matters. Id. Additionally, the DEA must also consider the eight factors listed in § 811(c), and comply with the notice and hearing provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

The Dangerous Drug Diversion Control Act of 1984, Pub. L. 98-73, 98 Stat. 1837, amended the CSA to add the temporary scheduling provision found at 21 U.S.C. § 811(h) in order to make the process more responsive to the emerging "designer" drug market by providing a temporary scheduling provision, see Touby, 500 U.S. at 163.

To temporarily schedule a drug on an emergency basis pursuant to § 811(h), the DEA must find that it is necessary to temporarily schedule a substance in schedule I "to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety." 21 U.S.C. § 811(h)(1). Instead of the eight factors required for permanent scheduling under the standard § 811(c) rulemaking procedures, § 811(h)(3) only requires the DEA to consider three factors before reaching an "imminent hazard" determination, specifically: (1) the drug's "history and current pattern of abuse;" (2) "[t]he scope, duration, and significance of abuse;" and (3) "[w]hat, if any, risk there is to the public health." In addition, the DEA considers "actual abuse, diversion from legitimate channels, and clandestine importation, manufacture, or distribution." Id. § 811(c)(4), (5), (6); id. § 811(h)(3). "Rather than comply with the APA notice-and-hearing provisions, the Attorney General need provide only a 30-day notice of the proposed scheduling in the Federal Register." Touby, 500 U.S. at 163. The DEA scheduled JWH-018 under this emergency scheduling authority. See Notice of Intent to Temporarily Schedule, 75 Fed. Reg. 71635, [DE 235-1 (DEA Letter to HHS); DE 235-2 (HHS Letter responding to DEA].

On March 1, 2011, the DEA published a Final Order temporarily placing five synthetic cannabinoids in Schedule I on an emergency basis for a period of one year. See Final Order, 76 Fed. Reg. 11075 (Mar. 1, 2011); 21 U.S.C. § 811(h). In connection with this Order, the DEA invoked an exception to the procedural requirements of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) in order to avoid any delay. See 5 U.S.C. § 808(2).

On February 29, 2012, DEA published an order extending the temporary scheduling of JWH-018 to August 29, 2012, or until the final rulemaking proceedings were complete, whichever came first. See Final Rule, 77 Fed. Reg. 12201 (Feb. 29, 2012). On July 9, 2012, President Barack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, Pub. L. No. 112-144, into law. The Act bans several specific synthetic cannabinoids (including JWH-018) and an entire class of "cannabimimetic agents" as Schedule I substances, thereby obviating the need for the DEA to publish a Final Rule.

The indictment in this matter covers activity involving JWH-018 analogues during the time span of fall, 2011 to October, 2012, in other words, during the time period that JWH-018 was included on Schedule I ...

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