Is marijuana a medicine, or is it a vitality-sucking, life-destroying devil weed? Cannabis advocates and law enforcement don't exactly see eye-to-eye on this crucial point -- but for the first time, a judge will be called in to decide.
A federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C., has agreed to hear oral arguments in a 10-year-old rescheduling petition filed by Americans for Safe Access, a marijuana advocacy group. ASA wants the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance -- which means the government considers cannabis highly addictive, with no medical value -- to a classification that reflects its medicinal application.
The court hearing would be the first time the medical merits of cannabis would be examined in a federal courtroom since 1994 -- before 17 states and the District of Columbia approved the medical use of marijuana -- and a mere 10 years after the petition was filed.
The United States Court
of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments in Americans
for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration on Oct. 16, according to ASA chief counsel Joe Elford.
"This is a rare
opportunity for patients to confront politically motivated
decision-making with scientific evidence of marijuana's medical
efficacy," Elford said in a statement issued late Monday. "What's at stake in this case is
nothing less than our country's scientific integrity."
Numerous studies, including research conducted by the state-funded Center for Medical Cannabis Research at the University of California, have concluded that marijuana may hold some medical value for sufferers of AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, chronic pain, and myriad other diseases and conditions. The federal government has maintained, including at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005, that the plant has no medical value.
In recent weeks, yet another study was published, this one directly blasting the feds' assertions. In The Open Neurology Journal, UC San Diego researcher Dr. Igor
Grant wrote that marijuana's Schedule I classification is "not
tenable." Calling the drug -- on which the U.S. government holds a medical patent, and derivatives of which are prescribed in the U.S., United Kingdom, and Canada -- is medically worthless is poppycock, Grant wrote. It is "not
accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on
safety is lacking."
The DEA last summer denied to hear an appeal of marijuana's classification, which was originally filed in 2002. ASA then filed a lawsuit to force the feds into a courtroom.
The results of the hearing come at an auspicious time -- it will be about a year from the day the Justice Department began a coordinated crackdown on California's state-legal, taxpaying medical marijuana dispensaries. About a dozen have shut down in the Bay Area, including eight in San Francisco as of the end of business Tuesday.
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