Judges consider whether the feds have ignored medical evidence on marijuana

October 14, 2012

Steven T. Jones, San Francisco Bay Guardian

Tomorrow, for the first time in more than 20 years, a court will consider whether the federal government has improperly ignored evidence of marijuana's medical value in continuing to classify it as a Schedule 1 narcotic, the category of dangerous drugs with no medicinal value.

“This is a very big deal,” said David Goldman, a San Francisco representative of Americans for Safe Access, part of the coalition that brought the lawsuit that will be heard by the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC. “I am personally optimistic given the three judges [that will hear the case] are Clinton appointees.”

The federal government has consistently maintained a hardline on marijuana, through both Republican and Democratic administrations, rejecting various efforts to get it rescheduled in the face of a growing body of research that it has a wide range of medical benefits, from simple alleviation of anxiety to treatment for diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and glaucoma.

In fact, Goldman said federal officials who doubt marijuana's medical affects should come to “Cannabis in Medicine: A Primer for Health Care Professionals,” a training session for medical professionals that the University of California at San Francisco is hosting Oct. 24-25. It will feature doctors discussing their research on the “endocannabinoid system” and using marijuana to treat cancer and pain, among other sessions.

Tomorrow's court hearing and subsequent ruling could undermine the Obama Administration's current crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in California and other states that have legalized it for medical use, giving patients the right to bring a medical necessity defense in federal courts and possibly raising medical marijuana as an issue in the presidential campaign.

As we reported in August, local and state officials have been strongly resisting the federal crackdown, which has shuttered a third of San Francisco's two dozen licensed clubs. More recently, the city of Oakland has intervened on behalf of Harborside Health Center – one of the country's biggest and highest profile marijuana dispensaries – which was raided by the feds earlier this year. Among other defenses is Oakland's citing of a court ruling that the federal government can't turn a blind eye to something for more than five years and then suddenly swoop in, bust people, and seize assets.

California was the first of 17 states that have legalized marijuana for medical use, allowing localities to set up system for regulating its distribution and giving patients the cite that right in court. But on the federal level, the war on drugs has continued unabated, something that this hearing could begin to change.

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