Highest Court In The Land: Medical Pot Advocates Take Case To Supreme Court

Medical marijuana advocates are asking the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling that pot should continue to be classified as a Schedule I drug.
By @katierucke |
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    James Earle Fraser's statue The Contemplation of Justice sits on the west side of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Photo/Matt Wade via Wikimedia Commons)

    James Earle Fraser’s statue The Contemplation of Justice sits on the west side of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Photo/Matt Wade via Wikimedia Commons)

    The medical marijuana patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling that marijuana has no medical value and should continue to be classified as a Schedule I drug.

    In the U.S., the federal government maintains Schedule I as a list of drugs believed to have no accepted medical use, a high potential for abuse, and the potential to result in severe psychological and physical dependence. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, ecstasy and LSD.

    Drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine are considered Schedule II drugs, meaning they are still dangerous and potentially addictive but not as likely to be abused.

    Americans for Safe Access says a January 2013 ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals set “unreasonable and unprecedented” standards that must be met to prove marijuana has a medicinal value. The D.C. Circuit Court said the drug could not be legalized until Phase II and Phase III clinical trials show it is effective.

    Joe Elford is the chief counsel for for Americans for Safe Access, and represented the group in court. He told Mint Press News that the group had filed its appeal because medical marijuana “is an issue that should be discussed more than it is.” Many individual patients are suffering because they can’t get the medicine they need, he added.

    While presenting his case, Elford cited more than 200 peer-reviewed studies that prove the drug’s medicinal value for treating pain, nausea, and several other serious medical conditions.

    He said that “To deny that sufficient evidence is lacking on the medical efficacy of marijuana is to ignore a mountain of well-documented studies that conclude otherwise.”

    Additional research is hard to come by because of the government’s restrictions on the use of marijuana, he said — putting medical marijuana advocates in a classic Catch-22.

    “The Obama administration is making a joke of scientific integrity at the expense of patients and doctors,” Elford said earlier this year. “They dismiss existing studies as insufficient while steadfastly blocking human clinical trials that can confirm what doctors have known for centuries and tens of thousands of patients experience every day-cannabis is medicine.”

    Americans for Safe Access also argued the D.C. Circuit’s ruling conflicted with a separate appeals court ruling that said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration can’t cite lack of approval from the Food and Drug Administration as a reason for deciding a substance has no accepted medical use. The other court also ruled that for some drugs, federal approval is not necessary if “there is no economic or other incentive to seek interstate marketing approval … because [they] cannot be patented and exploited commercially.”

    Since California first legalized medical marijuana in 1996, 18 other states and Washington, D.C., have passed similar laws. Proposals to legalize medical marijuana are currently being debated in a handful of other states.

    Medical marijuana advocates have long argued that as the drug continues to be legalized throughout the U.S., and more and more of the American public begins to realize its value, the federal government will need to adjust its stance, as well.

    “At some point marijuana is going to be reclassified from Schedule I to another classification or won’t be classified at all,” Elford said, adding that the sooner it happens, the better, so that Americans who are ill can safely and legally obtain the medicine they need.

     

    Medical marijuana research

    As Mint Press News previously reported, only a few researchers have been given approval from the federal government to conduct research on marijuana. Dr. Mahmoud Elsohly, a research professor at the University of Mississippi’s School of Pharmacy, is one of those researchers.

    As part of his research, Elsohly is responsible for overseeing the production of marijuana for the four surviving patients in the federal government’s medical marijuana program.

    Although Elsohly has been growing marijuana for patients in the U.S. since the late 1970s, neither he nor the federal government ever conducted any research or evaluated how the marijuana was affecting the patients.

    Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that a medical marijuana advocacy group, Patients Out of Time, decided to commission its own study to look at the physical and mental effects marijuana had on the four surviving patients.

    After running tests examining the pulmonary, respiratory and immune systems of all four living patients, researchers found that other than developing phlegm — which St. Pierre says is not “a great surprise when smoking vegetable matter” — the patients were fine.

     

    Just a matter of time?

    The Americans for Safe Access petition to the Supreme Court comes after the governors of four states — Colorado, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — asked the federal government to reclassify marijuana.

    Despite the fact that about 34 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state where medical marijuana is legal, the DEA continues to raid dispensaries and the homes of patients. The raids cost taxpayers around $17,000 each, according to Americans for Safe Access.

    In a June 2013 report from Americans for Safe Access, the group reported that the federal government has spent nearly half a billion dollars so far in its crackdown on medical marijuana. Of that, about $300 million has been spent in states that have legalized medical marijuana.

    As Mint Press News previously reported, reluctance by some state politicians to legalize medical marijuana is sparked by tough talk from U.S. attorneys, who have reportedly sent threatening letters to officials in an attempt to keep marijuana illegal.

    “Between February and May, federal prosecutors sent letters to elected state officials in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Colorado, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine — either implicitly or explicitly threatening criminal prosecution of elected officials and state employees if they implemented laws regulating the distribution of medical cannabis,” says a June report from Americans for Safe Access.

    California has been one of the most heavily targeted by the DEA, much to the chagrin of state lawmakers, including Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

    “Many states have legalized medicinal marijuana. I believe the president and the Department of Justice ought to respect the will of these separate states… We are capable of self-government. We don’t need some federal gendarme to come and tell us what to do,” Brown said.

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