D.C. Appeals Court to Hear Case Over Marijuana Rescheduling Petition
Medical marijuana patients across the country are going to get their voice heard in court this fall when the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit hears oral arguments in Americans for Safe Access (http://americansforsafeaccess.org) vs. Drug Enforcement Administration, a lawsuit challenging marijuana’s place among other Schedule I drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
The hearing comes ten years after the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) filed its petition, the courts will finally review the scientific evidence regarding the medical value of marijuana.
"Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access, the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "This is a rare opportunity for patients to confront politically motivated decision-making with scientific evidence of marijuana's medical efficacy," continued Elford. "What's at stake in this case is nothing less than our country's scientific integrity and the imminent needs of millions of patients."
ASA filed its lawsuit in January, challenging the July 2011 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denial of the CRC petition, which was filed in 2002. Hopefully this will be what finally breaks the DEA’s hold over marijuana and allows a sensible scheduling of the cannabis plant at the very least.
This 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 and morphine - is based on the federal government's position that it has "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."
Oakland Medical Marijuana Rally
Last week medical marijuana patients and advocates gathered in front of City Hall in Oakland to rally for medical cannabis and protest recent threats to shut down Harborside Health Center, which serves over 100,000 patients and follows all local and state laws and is not near a school.
But because it is big, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag assumes they have to be doing something nefarious, and therefore has moved to shut them down.
“SF City Watch presentation of Pot Talk TV producer Tony De Renzo crosses the bay bridge and captures Harborside Health Center's Medical Marijuana March in Oakland California,” says the description of the video below. ‘Steve DeAngelo, from Weed Wars, speaks on behalf of the voters and patients in all of the medical marijuana states. It's time to end these raids on lawful dispensaries and respect state rights.”
Steve DeAngelo is also the Executive Director of Harborside. He is now at the forefront of a storm that could very well direct the future course of the battle between the states and the federal government over medical marijuana.
If Harborside is forced to shut down, it will be a demoralizing blow to the movement nationwide.
State Senator in Oklahoma Supports Medical Marijuana
State Senator Constance Johnson (D-Oklahoma City) is facing a long, uphill battle in her quest to bring medical marijuana to her state. Senator Johnson has introduced a medicinal marijuana bill every year since she was first elected in 2005, but her bills have yet to receive a hearing in committee. She is now petitioning the Republican chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to allow a study before the Legislature reconvenes in February.
"The legislative process moves slowly. It's taken seven years just to get a study, and even that's not a given," Johnson said. "I'm an eternal optimist, and I'm optimistic that it will get a hearing one day. Things are changing.
"More and more people are going to speak up and speak out, and that's how change happens, when it happens at the grassroots level."
Without elected officials like Constance Johnson, very few states would have medical marijuana laws on the books. It is a very long process, especially in states with entrenched conservative, religious values. For instance, the Oklahoma Legislature recently passed a bill allowing a sentence of up to life in prison for a first-time offender who attempts to convert marijuana to hashish.
"With our Legislature, it's always a race to the draconian finish line," said Chad Moody, an Oklahoma City defense attorney who specializes in drug cases. "If one lawmaker says we need a $100 fine for jaywalking, the next one says they want the death penalty because they want to be tough on crime.
"I don't understand why this Republican Legislature doesn't want liberty across the board."
In many instances conservative politicians are so blinded by their own ideology that they fail to even consider the other side of the medical marijuana question.
Victory for medical cannabis patients only comes after many years of effort.
Colorado MMJ Numbers Climbing, but Still Far from Peak
While medical marijuana numbers continue to rise in Colorado, they are still far below the peak achieved last year.
As of the end of May, there were 98,910 card-holding medical marijuana patients in the state according to MMJ registry numbers released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
But at this time last year there were over 128,000 patents registered in the state. From July to November of 2011 almost 50,000 patients dropped off the official rolls, but there has been a small, steady climb since December to the current number just under 100,000.
Where are the patients going? Simply put, they are returning to the registry slowly. More invasive rules regarding tracking in the state are seemingly making some patients wary of who is following the course of their medical history.
Most patients live in the Denver metro area and severe pain is the most common reason for medical cannabis recommendations.
Patients know very well that medical marijuana is illegal under federal laws, and the idea that the feds are seeing them purchase medical cannabis and knowing what they purchased is unsettling at best. So patients dropped off the registry and went another route, most probably moving back into the black market.
But as time goes on more patients are going back to the convenience and quality of regulated medical marijuana. While it is disconcerting for the feds to know your business, they are only going after providers and caregivers so far, and unless they start randomly arresting people who are solely patients, it is unlikely they will prosecute individual patients at all, unless they want to arrest 100,000 people.
The numbers will likely continue to climb in Colorado, at least until the federal government decides to thoroughly crack down on dispensaries in the state.
So Far Prosecutors in MA not Campaigning Against Medical Marijuana
In November voters in Massachusetts will be voting on, among other things, whether or not to legalize medical marijuana. So far, law enforcement officials who came out against a marijuana decriminalization measure in 2008 are taking a softer view on this issue, at least as far as campaigning against it.
“I don’t intend, right now, to do any campaigning on this issue. I’ve let people know where I stand,” said Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early, who is president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.
Early said he personally opposes the initiative because it’s too broad and could allow marijuana prescriptions for too many ailments. “I see the headaches that California had . . . You want to make sure you get this right and you have to learn from other people’s mistakes,” he said.
But Early says he sees merit in medical marijuana itself. “My take is this: I have compassion and no problem helping someone who is dying from a cancer that could benefit by helping them keep food down through the use of medical marijuana,” he said. “I’ve also had friends who’ve died from cancer who may have benefited from medical marijuana but did not try marijuana because it is illegal to do so.”
Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone addressed the issue in a statement: "I remain open to considering the legal use of medical marijuana, if there is clear and convincing evidence to a reasonable degree of medical and scientific certainty that the medical benefits of marijuana cannot be obtained in any other way or form, and provided that proper regulatory measures are in place to ensure that there is systemic accountability that prevents abuse in distributing, obtaining and using medical marijuana.”
In 2008 the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association came out against decriminalization, but they have yet to take a position on medical marijuana. Will the silence of law enforcement help medical marijuana pass in MA this fall?
Medical marijuana advocates plan strategy against LA dispensary ban
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