Today marks the first time in over 20 years that an appeals court will hear arguments for the medical benefits of marijuana.
Currently, marijuana is a Schedule I drug, meaning it is considered to have no medical value, a high potential for abuse, and a lack of accepted safety for use. Other drugs placed on the same level as marijuana include LSD and heroin.
Hearings for the lawsuit will start today, but it has been a long time coming. Americans for Safe Access v. DEA has been pending for over a decade and advocates were forced to sue the government for the second time this year just to get a hearing.
Oral arguments will be heard today by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, which is the appeals court that typically handles cases having to do with government regulations.
The DEA has been refusing to reclassify marijuana for years, despite attempts from advocacy groups and please from politicians.
The first attempt came in 1972, when the classification was challenged by NORML. The DEA didn’t even consider that petition until 1988, when DEA administrative law judge Francis Young recommended that marijuana be rescheduled. Young called marijuana “the safest therapeutically active subject known to man.” However, the DEA rejected his recommendation and their decision was upheld by the DC Circuit in 1994.
The second appeal was from High Times Magazine in 1995, on the basis that marijuana does not have a high potential for abuse. The DEA rejected the petition in 2001.
Despite rejections in the past, marijuana advocates are confident that progress will be made this time around. In the past twenty years, dozens of studies have been completed and demonstrate the medical value of marijuana.
ASA’s appeal brief explains, “There are numerous peer-reviewed studies establishing that marijuana is effective in treating AIDS wasting syndrome, muscle spasticity, emesis, appetite loss, negative side effects of chemotherapy, and chronic pain… The government, however, simply ignores these well controlled studies. It is only by failing to apply the appropriate standards and make the required comparisons that the federal government could conclude that marijuana is as harmful as heroin and PCP and even more harmful than methamphetamine, cocaine and opium.”
Marijuana reclassification could allow big pharmaceutical companies to begin patenting medicines based on marijuana and THC. It could also help to defend the rights of medical marijuana patients, legitimizing their medicine on a federal level.
A victory before the appeals court would be a huge step for marijuana advocates, especially medical marijuana advocates who have been targeted by the DEA over the course of the past year.
Whatever the outcome of the case, it is expected that the ‘losing’ side will appeal to the Supreme Court, pushing marijuana to the forefront of American issues.
In an advisory, ASA attorney Joe Elford stated, “Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court. 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 that our country’s scientific integrity and the imminent needs of millions of patients.”