Advocates challenge marijuana’s classification, present scientific evidence for first time in nearly 20 years
For the first time in nearly 20 years, advocates will use scientific evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy to try to force a change in the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medical value.
Medical marijuana advocates will participate in oral arguments Tuesday before the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the landmark case Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration. Advocates contend that the government has arbitrarily and capriciously kept marijuana classified as a Schedule I substance and out of reach for millions of Americans by ignoring overwhelming research on the therapeutic value of marijuana
“Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court,” said Joe Elford, who will be arguing the case before the court Tuesday as 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.”
Joe Elford, Americans for Safe Access: “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,” Elford said.
Tuesday’s oral arguments are the culmination of efforts started 10 years ago by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC). In 2002, the CRC filed a rescheduling petition that the federal government refused to answer until last year when advocates sued the Obama Administration for unreasonable delay. After the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denied the CRC petition in July of last year, ASA responded by filing an appeal with the D.C. Circuit in January.
Patient advocates claim that marijuana is treated unlike any other controlled substance and that politics has dominated over medical science on this issue. Advocates point to a research approval process for marijuana, controlled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is unique, overly rigorous, and hinders meaningful therapeutic research.
ASA argues in its appeal 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.”
Tuesday’s oral arguments come just months after a study was published in The Open Neurology Journal by Dr. Igor Grant, one of the leading U.S. medical marijuana researchers, stating 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 (the same as heroin, and allegedly more dangerous than methamphetamine and cocaine in Schedule II) is based on the federal government’s position that it has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”
An open letter from more than 70 medical professionals in 15 U.S. states, including physicians, physician assistants, and registered nurse practitioners, is being sent to the Obama Administration in advance of Tuesday’s arguments. The letter cites favorable positions on rescheduling by the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, and the American Nurses Association, refuting the federal government’s position that marijuana lacks “currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”
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.
The panel of judges assigned to hear oral arguments includes Circuit Judges Henderson and Garland, and Senior Circuit Judge Edwards.