Not Quite as Controlled?

A federal court hears a case that could lead to marijuana being classified as having medical value

The lawyers are at it again, shoving legal briefs and filings and arguments down each other's throats and generally trying to rip new assholes in each other for the benefit of all mankind.

This time, I am referring to a federal case brought by Americans for Safe Access, a medical-marijuana-advocacy group that has been fighting for more than 10 years to get cannabis removed from Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act. The lawyers at ASA think the Drug Enforcement Administration made a mistake last year when it rejected a bid to reschedule cannabis.

Way back in 2002, ASA asked the feds to downgrade marijuana, based on the opinions of many, many doctors and scientists who think it has medical value. (Schedule I is reserved for drugs with no medical merit.) The case dragged in the hallowed halls of the DEA until last year, when the agency rejected the request, citing a federal study that found no consensus among medical professionals that marijuana is medically effective.

ASA then asked the 12 judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals' D.C. circuit to review the decision, claiming consensus is unnecessary. Lawyers for ASA claim the feds need only consider whether marijuana is "accepted by qualified experts," according to an analysis at Opening arguments took place this week.

If the appeals court agrees with ASA, the DEA would seemingly be forced to reschedule marijuana.

There may not be a consensus, but there are certainly hundreds of qualified experts who agree MMJ works. The Wall Street Journal checked around, and it seems the American College of Physicians, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association think the stuff has medical value. These people are qualified experts. Donald Abrams, chief of hematology-oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, is a qualified expert, too. He uses cannabis to treat cancer and HIV patients.

"In my practice every day as a cancer specialist, I see patients who have loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting from their chemotherapy, pain on and off of opiates, anxiety, depression, and insomnia," Abrams said, according to an ASA news release, adding that all can be relieved with cannabis.

Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration could prove to be a landmark case, possibly the straw that breaks the federal camel's back. It could spark a cascade of events leading to a loosening of the federal marijuana choke chain.

"What's at stake in this case is nothing less than our country's scientific integrity and the imminent needs of millions of patients," said ASA chief counsel Joe Elford, who argued the case.

The folks at ASA aren't the only ones seeking reclassification. Last November, the governors of Washington, Rhode Island and Vermont asked the feds to reschedule marijuana to Schedule II, which is reserved for drugs with medical value. Also last November, the state of Colorado also officially asked the feds to reschedule marijuana. That half-hearted request was required by a voter-passed initiative in 2010. Those requests are pending action, and if history is a guide, it will be years before the DEA makes a decision.

But I say "no thank you" to rescheduling MMJ. I prefer to get my herbal remedies from herbalists, not pharmacists. Putting marijuana on Schedule II would only make matters worse. I do not want to fight past people in white smocks any more than I want to fight past the Men in Blue to get my meds.

So cross your fingers. The arguments are argued and filings filed. Now we just wait for a decision from the lofty halls of justice in the Second Highest Court in the Land. Relax. The lawyers are on the case.

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