Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Status of Medical Marijuana to be Tested in U.S. Appeals Court
Ten-year old petition could change everything.
Medical marijuana advocates will finally have their day in federal court, after the United States Court of Appeals for D.C. ended ten years of rebuffs by agreeing to hear oral arguments on the government’s classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug.
A decision in the case could either finish off medical marijuana for good, or else upend the fed’s rationale for its stepped-up war against the medical marijuana industry. Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration asks that the federal government review the scientific evidence regarding marijuana’s therapeutic value. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to do so in October.
The original petition, filed by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) in 2002, has languished in obscurity, but recent moves to have marijuana rescheduled from its status as a Schedule 1 drug—a class that includes heroin—have increased in the wake of America’s Civil War over medical marijuana. “This is a rare opportunity for patients to confront politically motivated decision-making with scientific evidence of marijuana’s med efficacy,” said Joe Elford, chief council for Americans for Safe Access, the group that successfully challenged the denial of the original CRC petition. “What’s at stake in this case is nothing less than our country’s scientific integrity and the imminent needs of millions of patients.”
The Controlled Substance Act reserves Schedule 1 for drugs that “have a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and there is lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.”
Recently, an article by Dr. Igor Grant in the Open Neurology Journal argued that marijuana’s Schedule 1 classification and surrounding political controversy were “obstacles to medical progress in this area.”
Seventeen states have now adopted some form of medical marijuana law, but the nascent field remains in limbo due to federal regulations about the illegality of marijuana use. Over the past year, the U.S. Justice Department has stepped up its pressure on medical marijuana purveyors, culminating in dozens of indictments, seizures, and shutdowns. Most recently, the Los Angeles City Council simply threw up its hands and banned most marijuana dispensaries in the city. But it’s not even clear if the ban on state-legal dispensaries is itself legal. A pot collective in Covina recently won its challenge to a blanket ban on pot sales in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County in the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal. As a Los Angeles Times editorial aptly put it, “we’re confused about how to legally restrict a quasi-legal business.”
According to Chris Roberts, writing in the SF Weekly, “the court hearing would be the first time the medical merits of cannabis would be examined in a federal courtroom since 1994.” At the core of the argument is the federal government’s contention that the marijuana plant has no redeeming medical value, as opposed to the mountain of scientific studies suggesting that marijuana may be applicable in the treatment of glaucoma, cancer, chronic pain, and possibly other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis.
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