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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Feds Play Circular "Game of Gotcha" With Marijuana Prohibition

Posted By on Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 7:15 AM

click to enlarge Cannabis in court
  • Cannabis in court

Burden Not on DEA to Prove Marijuana Is Dangerous; Judges Asked to Heed Research, Science.

Keeping marijuana under the government's list of most controlled, most dangerous substances is easy for the Drug Enforcement Administration -- all the federal drug warriors have to do is deny researchers access to the plant, then claim that there's insufficient research to determine that cannabis has benefits.

That "circular game of gotcha" continued Tuesday morning, but at least advocates of marijuana's medical benefits enjoyed a change of venue -- and a significant one. An appeal seeking to reschedule marijuana from the panoply of the world's most dangerous drugs is now in federal judges' hands, following oral arguments in Americans for Safe Access's lawsuit against the DEA in Washington, DC, Tuesday.

Win or lose, the rescheduling lawsuit is a milestone in the marijuana

movement. Still, there's a few points to consider: The lawsuit won't

make cannabis legal, but rather less illegal. And, perhaps unfairly, the

deck's stacked against ASA, since the federal government doesn't have to

prove that cannabis is harmful. Instead, ASA has to prove that it is NOT harmful.

But at least the government and its opponents agree on one

thing: More research is needed.  However, it remains to be seen if a judge

will agree and help fight the drug war by ordering the DEA to allow

scientists access to, well, science.

The feds' circular "games" with marijuana was prominently featured in ASA's chief counsel Joe Elford's oral arguments Tuesday.

"The lack of access to marijuana for medical research is a consequence of the scheduling, yet the lack of suitable research is cited by the DEA as a reason for maintaining the schedule," Elford argued, according to an ASA news release issued Tuesday.

Entered into evidence were piles of research, studies, and other data produced by scientists, as well as anecdotal statements from medical marijuana users, including disabled Air Force veteran Michael Krawitz. He told the judges that he's denied federal Veterans' Administration benefits because he also seeks medical marijuana treatment on the side.

The judges, at least outwardly, are listening. In fact, they want to know more; the  judges asked Krawitz to file additional information clarifying exactly what's wrong with him and what treatment he's denied by the VA.

Incredibly enough, attorneys for the DEA admitted that they do accept valid studies conducted on medical marijuana's value, it's just that the results aren't yet known.

The DEA allowed that 15 studies adhering to "specific federal 'quality'" standards have been conducted, according to testimony from DEA attorney Lena Watkins. So why is there no proof, up or down, one way or the other? "We don't have the final

results yet," Watkins told the three-judge panel.

The case is without serious precedent. Never before has a federal judge asked the Drug Enforcement Administration to provide proof for its classifications of drugs. And it might not this time around, either: One of the judges called the DEA "the scientists," and asked if it wasn't smart to "defer to them."

Still, the exit from the circular argument is clear. Both sides agreed that there's insufficient data and more research needs to be done on the plant. If that means keeping marijuana illegal, but at least in schedule II -- where cocaine and methamphetamine are classified, unlike highly dangerous ecstasy, DMT, peyote, mescaline, LSD, and psilocybin -- it also means that science will at last have a way in.

A ruling could come as soon as early next year, according to ASA.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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