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Appeals court to hear landmark marijuana case

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.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Isn’t it nice that nobody smokes that **** to get high anymore? It’s all medicine now.

    Who knew there were so many sick people in need of this particular medicine?

  • JohnW

    I’ve never smoked the stuff, but I’m beginning to anticipate a medicinal need for it after November 6th. I’ll be needing a four year refillable prescription.

  • Bruce R, Peterson, Lafayette

    @#2. That’s funny John. I will need to some stupid weed too, so I can get as stupid the political garbage that hits me from my TV. A.K.A. idiot box.
    I’ve decided to vote for who or what spends the least amount of money on advertisement.

  • RR senile columnist

    Why do ya think they call it dope? Give grass to the enfeebled, not to “troubled” teens.