Medical Pot Activists Get Their Day in Court

By Tony O'Neill 10/08/12

Advocates will challenge the government's position on pot at the US Court of Appeal, weeks before the presidential elections.

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Advocates led by Americans for Safe Access are set to go before the US Court of Appeal next week, in an attempt to change the government’s classification of marijuana. Among them is a 49-year-old Air Force veteran named Michael Krawitz. He was seriously injured while on active duty and left suffering chronic pain and a permanent disability. His condition was helped by a medical marijuana prescription he recieved while abroad—but when the Department of Veteran Affairs found out about it they denied him further treatment. Stories like Krawitz’s aren't unusual. But while the Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as a drug with “no medicinal value,” numerous medical organizations beg to differ: the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Nurses Association, the Federation of American Scientists and the American Academy of Family Physicians all share beliefs that patients should have access to MMJ, that pot should be reclassified, or both. And with 56% of Americans supporting legalization, the federal government is losing allies—although both presidential candidates can console themselves that they share each other's unwillingness to discuss reform. 

This court case will mark the first time in 20 years that US courts have evaluated the therapeutic value of marijuana. "Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court," says Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access. "This is a rare opportunity for patients to confront politically motivated decision-making with scientific evidence of marijuana's medical efficacy." Opening arguments for Americans for Safe Access vs. the DEA will be heard on October 16—just a few weeks before the elections. “The time has come to address medical marijuana as a public health issue," says ASA’s executive director Steph Sherer, "and for the federal government to prioritize science over politics.”

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.