For the first time since 1994, the question of medical marijuana will go before a federal court. The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has agreed to hear a lawsuit challenging the DEA’s classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medical value. The ten-year-old suit, brought by Americans for Safe Access, will present scientific evidence on marijuana’s therapeutic properties.
The appeal brief calls the DEA’s refusal to analyze numerous studies on the drug’s medical uses “arbitrary and capricious,” and asks the court to order the DEA to conduct a hearing on the scientific evidence.
Marijuana is currently a Schedule 1 substance with “high potential for abuse,” in the same legal classification as heroin and cocaine. In spite of numerous petitions to reschedule the drug, the federal government has maintained that marijuana has no medical value and launched costly and aggressive eradication efforts. Just a few weeks ago, the Justice Department sued to close the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the country, even as Congress, in a rare bipartisan move, prepared a bill to protect medical marijuana possession.
But the conditions for the ASA’s case — in which oral arguments will be presented on the morning of October 16 — are optimal. Since the original petition was filed in 2002, studies have piled up evidence of marijuana’s benefits in the treatment of illnesses including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and cancer. In 2011, the National Cancer Institute listed cannabis as a complementary and alternative medicine, noting that it has been used as medicine for thousands of years. And, of course, 17 states and the District of Columbia (with Massachusetts poised to join the list) have laws on the books recognizing marijuana’s medicinal properties and enabling safe providers to open shop.
Rescheduling marijuana would help ease the tensions between these state laws and federal crackdowns. It would also remove the roadblocks that have prevented more extensive research into the drug’s properties, which, according to the American College of Physicians, is much needed.