You probably haven’t heard about it in the mainstream media. But this week, in a high-rise building on I Street in downtown Sacramento, CA, history is quietly being made.
The building is a federal courthouse, and in a courtroom on the 15th floor, Federal District Judge Kimberly Mueller is holding an evidentiary hearing on whether the U.S. government’s decision to place cannabis in Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is constitutional.
Judge Mueller is breaking ground, and not only by being the first female federal judge to serve in California’s Eastern District. She is also blazing a trail by being the first judge to allow such an evidentiary hearing in a federal court, in a marijuana-related trial, since the implementation of the CSA in 1970.
Marijuana’s inclusion in Schedule I means that the plant is deemed to have no medicinal use, a high potential for abuse, and a high risk to cause physical or psychological addiction. This CSA rating places cannabis on par with heroin. To name only a few notable results of this scheduling:
– Research into the plant’s therapeutic benefits is seriously restricted in the U.S.
– Penalties for possession, use and sales of the plant are severe (and racially disproportionate)
– Adults who use the plant responsibly are automatically criminalized
– Fear and stigma associated with cannabis prevent us from honest conversation about its real benefits and comparative risks
According to many researchers here and abroad, the Schedule I rating holds no scientific water. Since 1970, our federal government has ignored their voices. And this is why the evidence being presented in Judge Mueller’s courtroom this week is so significant.
Arguments in favor of retaining cannabis as a Schedule I drug under the CSA will be presented by Bertha Madras, PhD, Professor of Psychobiology at Harvard Medical School and the former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush.
One declaration in favor of the motion to re- or de-schedule cannabis was submitted by Carl Hart, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University in New York City. Use this link to read Dr. Hart’s resume and his written declaration: http://edca.typepad.com/files/hart-direct-filed.pdf. His conclusions are clear and succinct.
“Based on my experience as a scientific and medical investigator/researcher with a focus on drug addiction and abuse, and an adviser on some of the most elite drug policy panels in this Nation, it is clear that cannabis is now accepted as having a medical value by myself and the majority of my colleagues. (…) After two decades of intense scientific inquiry in this area, it has become apparent the current scheduling of cannabis has no footing in the realities of science and neurobiology.”
Other written declarations in favor of removing cannabis from CSA Schedule I have been submitted to Judge Mueller. One came from Ms. Jennie Stormes, a mother who last week moved her family from New Jersey to Colorado in order to access regulated therapeutic cannabis for her child who has Dravet Syndrome. Another was submitted by former Marine Sgt. Ryan Begin of Maine, who has successfully weaned off of opiates and treated his PTSD using legal therapeutic cannabis.
At the core of these declarations in favor of changing the plant’s scheduling lies this reality: that it is not logically tenable for our federal government to categorize the marijuana plant as one of the most addictive and dangerous substances on earth, while at the same time allowing states to set their own regulatory policies for therapeutic cannabis use and distribution.
The same federal government that insists on placing cannabis in Schedule I still provides about 300 federally grown cannabis cigarettes per month to four surviving members of a little-known Investigational New Drug study that began in the 70s. It is also the same federal government taking a “cautiously optimistic” approach to the legalization experiments going on in Colorado and Washington states.
Unfortunately, the defendants in the case at hand appear to have been growing cannabis on federal land. This is a subject about which the DOJ has been quite clear, and rightly so. But it will be interesting to see how Judge Mueller rules on whether the scientific data developed over the last 44 years is at long last enough to support pulling cannabis out of Schedule I.