A federal appeals court is about to hear oral arguments on marijuana’s medical value, the first time in almost 20 years that advocates have had the chance to offer a court scientific evidence for a change in the government’s classification of the drug.
“Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court,” Joe Elford, chief counsel for Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, said in a news release. “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 U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear arguments Tuesday on whether the government has arbitrarily and capriciously kept marijuana classified in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, as advocates claim. Schedule 1 drugs are those deemed to have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety even under medical supervision; other drugs on that list include heroin and LSD, while methamphetamine is on the less-restrictive Schedule 2.
A Coalition for Rescheduling Marijuana filed a rescheduling petition in 2002; that petition was unanswered until 2011, when the Drug Enforcement Administration denied it after advocates sued for unreasonable delay. This hearing is on the appeal of that denial.
Advocates claim the ban on marijuana is rooted in politics, not science, and that the National Institute on Drug Abuse has created a unique and unreasonable research approval process for the drug.
ASA’s appellate brief argues the DEA has no “license to apply different criteria to marijuana than to other drugs, ignore critical scientific data, misrepresent social science research, or rely upon unsubstantiated assumptions, as the DEA has done in this case.”
An open letter from more than 60 medical professionals is being sent to the Obama Administration in advance of Tuesday’s arguments. It cites favorable positions on rescheduling by the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, and the American Nurses Association – an effort to refute the government’s position that marijuana lacks any accepted medical use.
California is among 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, which have enacted medical marijuana laws.