By Rick Thompson
Americans for Safe Access help patients present medical evidence of marijuana’s health benefits in Federal court while former DEA heads call for ramped-up attacks in medical marijuana states.
Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice?
It is becoming harder and harder for the DHHS, the DEA and the Obama Administration refuse to accept scientific and medical proofs of marijuana’s healthy benefits. A Federal Court of Appeals session on Tuesday made history as Americans for Safe Access presented evidence that cannabis should be removed from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. Former heads of the DEA, in a conference call on Monday, instead called for a renewed round of raids on businesses operating in states where medical cannabis has been approved.
Schedule 1 is reserved for the most heinous, harmful, non-medical drugs known to man, having “no accepted medical use”. Cocaine? Schedule 2, defined as containing “some medical use”. Methamphetamine? Schedule 2. Morphine? Schedule 2. Only LSD and heroin share Schedule 1 status with marijuana. Communities are forced to focus on the Schedule 1 substances for interdiction and enforcement actions, and are rewarded by the DEA for seizures of the substance.
ASA’s Chief Legal Counsel Joe Elford was able to present a summary of over 200 scientific studies that meet the standard for acceptability among the educated community. Hundreds, if not thousands, of additional studies, surveys and properly-conducted experiments have been produced by Universities and private entities, all indicating that marijuana has medicinal benefits for the human body. Elford refers to the US policy as “arbitrary and capricious”.
Elford’s statement about marijuana as medicine has some very influential supporters. The American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, California Medical Association, all believe in decriminalization or outright legalization of cannabis. The Institute of Medicine determined marijuana has value for appetite stimulation, pain relief, and nausea. Hundreds of professors and Nobel laureates have endorsed a relaxation of marijuana laws in America.
The Department of Health and Human Services disagrees. Their position is that this evidence does not exist, or it is not persuasive enough. Their standard is higher, requiring critical double-blind tests that meet certain scientific criteria. Elford responds: ” Patients are denied the medicine they need for fear of federal prosecution.” He points out that the DEA, in internal documents, characterized marijuana as having only a “mild” risk of addiction.
In 2002 a group of citizens filed a petition to change the Schedule status of marijuana. It took the DEA until 2011 to respond; their rejection of the claim cited no scientific data or consensus on marijuana’s health benefits among the medical community. Their standard for accepting studies and surveys is a double-blind testing procedure that is impossible to accomplish in America. The ASA case was a long-awaited appeal of that rejection- and the introduction of a new plaintiff.
Michael Krawitz is a veteran of the United States military. He’s been denied access to V.A. medical services because of his medical use of marijuana, a policy adopted by the V.A. because of marijuana’s Schedule 1 status. During testimony he spoke of other patients who are too afraid to grow cannabis despite their medical need. Krawitz also states that Schedule 1 prevents defendants from explaining their medical need to judges and juries on court proceedings all across the country.
The involvement of a citizen-plaintiff is crucial to the success of the case. Previous attempts to reschedule have been rejected because the entities suing the federal government did not have ‘standing’ to engage in the lawsuit, since an organization or corporation cannot sue based on personal loss. Maintaining Schedule 1 brings a cost, a personal loss of liberty to the plaintiff, and to people in every state in the Union. A citizen is at the helm of this legal effort. This issue of standing should be resolved in ASA’s favor.
In a greater sense this is a game of three-card monty where the bet is the health and safety of millions of American citizens. When we the people ask the Obama Administration why they will not reschedule marijuana, they point to science. When we challenge the scientists, they point to the DEA as a restrictor of access for experimentation. When we confront the DEA, they point to policymakers in Washington and the Department of Justice.
Enter the former heads of the DEA. During a telephone conference on Monday, these drug warriors renewed their zeal for prosecuting people federally for acting in accordance with state laws. Their ignorance of medical uses for cannabis is bliss, and the DEA has a decades-long history of ignoring opinion and science in favor of a harsh and desensitized enforcement policy.
The ASA case revealed the federal government’s obstructionist policy for what it is. Lena Watkins, the federal counsel in the lawsuit, admitted in court there were 15 different studies that meet the federal double-blind standard. When asked why these studies were not sufficient to change the minds of DHHS and DEA leadership, she responded with, “We don’t have the final results yet.” This revelation apparently contradicts DEA head Michele Leonhart, who wrote in a 2011 letter that “there are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving (marijuana’s) efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts…”
The federal government pursues this course of action in opposition to public opinion, over the objections of high-ranking elected officials, and with a blind eye to the consequence of their actions. Last year a cadre of State Governors took up the issue but to no avail. Michelle Alexander, an associate professor of law from Ohio, published a book entitled “The New Jim Crow” which exposes the war on drug as a racist tool that incarcerates blacks at an alarming rate. The United States jails more people than any other nation. The cost is staggering, in both dollars and in social consequence.
Seventeen states have already defied the DEA and turned on the medical use of marijuana for their citizens; three more are voting on the issue in November. Greater still, three other states will vote to completely legalize marijuana for recreational use, not just medical, for the first time ever in American history. The Federal Supreme Court refused to hear a case from California in which state’s rights to legalize medical use of marijuana were ruled to successfully co-exist with federal regulations, essentially giving states their stamp of approval to enact and enforce their own marijuana laws. Public acceptance of marijuana as medicine has not opened the eyes of the DEA- or the Obama Administration.
During the President’s first campaign for election he promised the voters that he would not use federal resources to pursue people for federal crimes in instances where there was compliance with state laws regarding medical marijuana. The Holder Memo was an important directive, issued after Obama won the election, in which the Attorney General for the United States codified the President’s campaign trail oath.
Since then the Obama Administration has been responsible for the largest and most vehement campaign to obliterate marijuana businesses in America’s history. The Department of Justice and the DEA have charged operators in Colorado, California, Washington, Michigan and others states with federal crimes for servicing certified medical marijuana patients. The IRS has contributed to the persecution by challenging the tax status of marijuana distributors.
In an attempt to close existing businesses and discourage new entities, the IRS went after California’s largest cannabis distributor and national poster child, Steven DeAngelo’s Harborside. Their fines exceeded $2 million; after Harborside paid the bill federal investigators raided another internationally-recognized example of cannabusiness, Oaksterdam University. Prosecutions and arrests continue in states bold enough to challenge the federal government.
The electorate is the farmer’s wife in our nursery rhyme, having been chased by these three blind mice. Popular support is the knife we wield; the tails we cut off are the tools of betrayal being used against critically ill and injured citizens. No one has ever seen such a sight- but then again this is a new day, with new tools and new information. The farmer’s wife no longer runs from the mice, she meets them head on, knife in hand.
Rick Thompson is on 2 radio shows and writes for several MM publications in Michigan