D.C. Circuit to Hear Oral Arguments this October in Lawsuit Challenging Marijuana’s Federal Classification
Late last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed to hear oral arguments in Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medical value. Ten years after the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) filed its petition, the courts will finally review the scientific evidence regarding the therapeutic value of marijuana. The D.C. Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments on October 16 at 9:30am.
“Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court,” said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. “This is a rare opportunity for patients to confront politically motivated decision-making with scientific evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy. What’s at stake in this case is nothing less than our country’s scientific integrity and the imminent needs of millions of patients.”
ASA filed its lawsuit in January, challenging the July 2011 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denial of the CRC petition, which was filed in 2002. The DEA is the final arbiter on petitions to reclassify controlled substances, but other agencies are also involved in the review process. Patient advocates claim that marijuana is treated unlike any other controlled substance in that rescheduling petitions are encumbered by politics and therapeutic research is subjected to a unique and overly rigorous approval process.
he announcement of oral arguments comes just weeks after a study was published in The Open Neurology Journal by Dr. Igor Grant, one of the leading U.S. medical marijuana researchers, claiming that marijuana’s Schedule I classification is “not tenable.” Dr. Grant and his fellow researchers concluded it was “not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”
The study urged additional research, and stated that marijuana’s federal classification and its political controversy are “obstacles to medical progress in this area.” Marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I substance (along with heroin and methamphetamine) is based on the federal government’s position that it has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”
For more than a year, the Obama Justice Department has been escalating its attacks in medical marijuana states, including dozens of new federal indictments and prosecutions. Though U.S. Attorneys often claim that the accused have violated state law in some way, defendants are prevented from using any medical evidence or a state law defense in federal court. If the rescheduling lawsuit is successful and marijuana is reclassified, federal defendants will then gain the basis for a medical necessity defense.
The ASA appeal brief asserts that the federal government has acted arbitrarily and capriciously in its efforts to deny marijuana to millions of patients throughout the U.S. ASA argues in its brief that 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.”
ASA is urging the court to “require the DEA to analyze the scientific data evenhandedly,” and order “a hearing and findings based on the scientific record.” The panel of judges assigned to hear oral arguments includes Circuit Judges Henderson and Garland, and Senior Circuit Judge Edwards.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have adopted medical marijuana laws that not only recognize the medical efficacy of marijuana, but also provide safe and legal access to it. Since the CRC petition was filed in 2002, an even greater number of studies have been published that show the medical benefits of marijuana for illnesses such as neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s.
Last year, the National Cancer Institute, a division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, added cannabis to its list of Complementary Alternative Medicines, pointing out that it’s been therapeutically used for millennia.
By Steve Elliott