On Wednesday, February 11th, 2015, Federal Judge Kimberly Mueller heard closing arguments in a California criminal case-related motion hearing that could be the beginning of the end of the War on Weed.
A legal defense team represented by defense attorney Zenia Gilg began presenting their case back in October of 2014. Their claim is that the group of nine men they are representing should have the charges they are facing dismissed because the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic is not backed by evidence and is therefore, unconstitutional. The defendants in this case were cultivating cannabis on Federal land and now face life imprisonment. Gilg’s argument in this motion is based on the claim that her clients were growing the cannabis for medical reasons. The motion to dismiss the charges was groundbreaking in itself because Judge Mueller granted the hearing for the motion, which is the first time this has happened in decades.
The Schedule I classification of cannabis and cannabinoids means that the federal government does not recognize that cannabis has any medical benefits. This classification also means that the scheduled substance is allegedly highly addictive and therefore poses serious risk of abuse. This classification of cannabis strains credibility, as the United States government holds a significant patent on the use of cannabis as medicine. The patent, filed for in 1999 and received in 2003, is US Patent 6630507 which states
Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention.
If the patent were to be enforced, the United States Department of Health and Human Services could have the exclusive right to the development of cannabinoid-based antioxidant drugs intended to be used as neuroprotectants.
This week’s hearing consisted of the final arguments from both sides. The original hearing on the motion took place back in October. During that hearing, the government’s only expert to testify in defense of the Schedule I classification of cannabis was Dr. Bertha Madras, Professor of Psychobiology at the Harvard School of Medicine. During her testimony, a lot of her argument focused on her assertion that cannabis has not been tested sufficiently to be considered a safe drug by the FDA.
Madras not only rejected studies presented about the potential of cannabis medicine but also did her best to avoid acknowledging that the vast majority of those in addiction treatment for cannabis were sent there by courts and not for a self-admitted issue with the plant. Following this line of reasoning, cannabis should be a Schedule I drug unless it is approved as a medication by the FDA, though the FDA’s approval of a substance is not directly related to whether or not a substance is scheduled as a controlled substance and where it is placed on the schedule (just think of tobacco).
Thankfully, her testimony came on the heels of days of testimony from cannabis experts, including Dr. Gregory Carter , Dr. Carl Hart and Dr. Phillip Denney, who all provided intelligent, passionate testimony about the need for additional studies and reclassification. After several months, the final arguments were heard in Judge Mueller’s court on February 11th.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Broderick, who represents the government in this case, reasserted that cannabis should remain a Schedule I drug. Despite being told during cross-examination that 76% of physicians who responded to a survey by the New England Journal of Medicine had medicinal value, Broderick staunchly insisted that too few doctors support the plant as a medicine. Judge Mueller, for her part, has promised a ruling on the motion within the next thirty days.
The American Academy of Pediatricians has recently stated that they believe cannabis should be rescheduled. The Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, stated just last week “that marijuana can be helpful” and that federal policy should be guided by that information. Considering these facts and the shifting political and social attitude toward cannabis, there is good cause for reserved optimism about Judge Mueller’s ruling and its implications for the future of cannabis policy in the United States.
Photo Credit: Aleksander Radovanovic