POLITICS
08/01/2012 12:15 pm ET Updated Aug 01, 2012

Medical Marijuana Case On Therapeutic Value, Rescheduling To Be Heard In Federal Court

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 25:  Marijuana is seen in a jar at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary, wh
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 25: Marijuana is seen in a jar at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary, which opened in 2006, on July 25, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles City Council has unanimously voted to ban storefront medical marijuana dispensaries and to order them to close or face legal action. The council also voted to instruct staff to draw up a separate ordinance for consideration in about three months that might allow dispensaries that existed before a 2007 moratorium on new dispensaries to continue to operate. It is estimated that Los Angeles has about one thousand such facilities. The ban does not prevent patients or cooperatives of two or three people to grow their own in small amounts. Californians voted to legalize medical cannabis use in 1996, clashing with federal drug laws. The state Supreme Court is expected to consider ruling on whether cities can regulate and ban dispensaries. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Medical marijuana advocates will get their day in court later this year, when they argue the therapeutic value of cannabis.

The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed late last week to hear oral arguments in Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, a case that could have major implications for the rescheduling of marijuana out of Schedule I, a category that also includes heroin and LSD. Schedule I drugs are described as substances that have “a high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.” Rescheduling can take place either by congressional vote, or through independent action by the executive branch in the presence of new research.

Marijuana policy reformers initially petitioned the DEA in 2002, arguing that the current classification of marijuana was improper. In 2011, the DEA finally denied their request, prompting Americans for Safe Access to file a lawsuit earlier this year. Advocates are excited about the opportunity to present scientific evidence before federal court, and especially optimistic considering the recent release of a report that claims, in the clearest terms yet, that there are medical benefits to marijuana.

From the Americans for Safe Access press release:

The announcement of oral arguments comes just weeks after a study was published in The Open Neurology Journal by Dr. Igor Grant one of the leading U.S. medical marijuana researchers, claiming that marijuana's Schedule I classification is "not tenable." Dr. Grant and his fellow researchers concluded it was "not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking." The study urged additional research, and stated that marijuana's federal classification and its political controversy are "obstacles to medical progress in this area." Marijuana's classification as a Schedule I substance (along with heroin) is based on the federal government's position that it has "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."

Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access, says the court's decision is long-awaited.

"Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court,” he said. “This is a rare opportunity for patients to confront politically motivated decision-making with scientific evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy ... What’s at stake in this case is nothing less than our country’s scientific integrity and the imminent needs of millions of patients.”

While marijuana is currently accepted for medical use in 17 states and the District of Columbia, the Obama administration and DEA have been unmistakably hard-nosed in their approach to the substance.

During congressional testimony earlier this year, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart refused to say whether crack or heroin posed bigger health risks than marijuana.

The administration has meanwhile continued an aggressive crackdown on marijuana dispensaries in California.

Oral arguments in Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration are set to begin on Oct. 16.

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