Pot backers advocate in federal court

October 15, 2012

Dan Freedman, San Francisco Chronicle

Marijuana supporters told a federal appeals court panel Tuesday that government agencies have created a "self-fulfilling prophecy" by keeping cannabis illegal despite evidence that using it can be medically beneficial.

Marijuana activists are seeking to "reschedule" marijuana as a drug suitable for medical use and thus remove it from Schedule I of the government's drug classification system, reserved for drugs with high abuse potential.

The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services say marijuana has no medical use, is as dangerous as ecstasy and heroin, and has even more abuse potential than cocaine.

The case now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has the potential to grow into a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on whether marijuana has medical value.

For marijuana backers, it could be an uphill climb. In 2005, the court ruled that DEA agents could enforce federal drug laws against Angel Raich, an Oakland mother who used locally grown marijuana under California's voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996 to ease pain from a brain tumor and other ailments.

"This is going to be an historic case," said Steve DeAngelo, founder and executive director of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, who attended the oral arguments.

The case before the three-judge panel Tuesday dates back to 2002, when marijuana supporters filed a rescheduling petition with the FDA and DEA. The DEA has long said marijuana should remain a banned drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Under DEA's drug schedule, "patients are denied the medicine they need for fear of federal prosecution," said Joseph Elford, representing Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland organization that brought the suit at issue Tuesday.

Elford pointed to a 1999 Institute of Medicine study that concluded marijuana has value for pain relief, nausea and appetite stimulation.

DEA spokesman Rusty Payne declined to comment with the case in litigation.



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