Medical Marijuana Up For Debate in Federal Court
by Jessica Piekle
The disconnect between state laws allowing for the use of medicinal marijuana and federal anti-drug enforcement efforts may be evolving.
As ThinkProgress reports, for the first time since 1994 a federal court will consider the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medical value. The lawsuit, which is now a decade old, was brought by Americans for Safe Access and argues the science behind marijuana’s therapeutic properties.
Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule 1 substance with a “high potential for abuse,” placing it alongside other narcotics such as heroin and cocaine.
Oral arguments on the ASA case will be heard on October 16th. Since the original petition was filed in 2002 the scientific evidence to support declassifying marijuana has expanded at least two-fold, especially in the treatment of diseases like 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. Even Congress seems prepared to protect medical marijuana possession.
Should ASA succeed and the court find the DEA’s refusal to reclassify marijuana as “arbitrary and capricious” that will force the Obama administration to re-evaluate and adjust federal enforcement efforts. Which, similar to their tactics in same sex marriage, may be exactly what they are looking for. When Attorney General Eric Holder first took over at the Department of Justice he said that medical marijuana prosecutions would fall low on the list of DOJ priorities. Yet busts and prosecutions have continued, leading many to question the sincerity of the statements.
Cover from the court would provide DOJ exactly what it needs to ease up on enforcing federal law, expand the ability of researchers to conduct more science to prove the benefits of medicinal marijuana use and ease tensions between federal and local law enforcement. It may not be fast and it may not be sexy, but this is how policy evolves.