Issue of Medical Marijuana Gets Hearing from U.S. Court of Appeals

Medical MarijuanaIn mid-October, a three judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit heard the case Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration.

At issue is whether the Drug Enforcement Administration acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in denying a 2002 petition to reclassify cannabis from a “dangerous drug without therapeutic benefits.”  Cannabis is currently classified as a Schedule I drug with “a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment.” The government classifies drugs into five schedules or categories. Schedule I drugs require the strictest control. Cocaine, opium and methamphetamine are classified as Schedule ll drugs, meaning that they have “some accepted medical use.”  The suit seeks to force the DEA to reconsider its classification, arguing that the agency ignored 200 well respected studies showing the medical benefits of cannabis.

When Congress passed the  Controlled Substances Act in 1970, it classified cannabis as a Schedule l drug on the understanding that it would be reclassified depending on the findings of the Presidential Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. The Commission’s recommendation that marijuana be entirely decriminalized was ignored.

Lawyers for the Drug Enforcement Administration said a review found “no substantial evidence” of acceptable medical use and rejected over 200 studies showing cannabis has legitimate medical use because the studies did not meet the standard of double-blind FDA approval trials.  Joseph Elford, arguing on behalf of Americans for Safe Access, said the agency is “deliberately stymieing research.” Elford said that both sides agree more research needs to be done, but research can only happen if marijuana is reclassified.

It is difficult to obtain research funds to study the medical benefits of a drug that has been classified as a Schedule I drug that meets FDA criteria.  But some pretty well-respected organizations, like the Institute of Medicine  in its 1990 report “Marijuana and Medicine:  Assessing the Science Base,” have concluded that “Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation” and that research should be done on safe delivery systems.

Medical marijuana advocacy groups are watching this case carefully. We are, too.





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