The reason marijuana is so tightly restricted by the federal government for medical use is because it is currently misclassified as a Schedule I substance, which inaccurately ranks it among highly dangerous drugs like heroin, LSD and ecstasy. This affects many patients, because substances with a Schedule I classification cannot be “prescribed, administered or dispensed for medical use” under the Controlled Substances Act, and can only be used for research purposes under strict guidelines.
Marijuana was provisionally designated as a Schedule I substance in 1970 when the Controlled Substances Act was created. Attempts for rescheduling it have been made by marijuana advocacy groups since 1972, but the most recent appeal, the case of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) v. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), might have what it takes to finally change federal regulation policies and ultimately grant patients the access they need to the medication.
After being filed in 2002 and denied in 2011, the petition to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedules III, IV, or V reappeared in the court system on October 16, 2012 in the case of ASA v. DEA.
On Monday October 22, 2012, plaintiff and disabled U.S. Air Force veteran Michael Krawitz submitted a briefing to the D.C. Circuit that explained the harm he has endured as a pain patient trying to skirt the federal government’s strict policy on medical marijuana. The federal appeals court ordered this briefing last week to decide whether or not the plaintiffs have legal “standing” on this issue. This move in the landmark case has opened up the opportunity for medical marijuana to be reconsidered seriously after previously being denied due to lack of standing, or harm endured by plaintiffs.
In his briefing, Krawitz explained his struggle as a medical marijuana patient. After enduring major injuries from a motorcycle accident while serving in the military, Krawitz said he continues to “suffer from severe pain to this day,” and is “rated by the Veteran Affairs (VA) system as 100% totally and permanently disabled,” which means he is eligible for VA medical treatment at no cost. Krawitz goes on to explain that he has been prescribed numerous medications such as oxycodone, morphine, Marinol, Tylenol, Donnatol, Naproxen, Relafen, Flexaril, Norflex, Percodan, and Zoloft to manage his pain, but found that nothing works as well, with as little negative side effects, as medical marijuana. However, he ended up being denied treatment and coverage by VA due to its Schedule I classification.
Circumstances like Krawitz’s seem to be all too common with patients when it comes to their options for medical treatment. While medical marijuana is consistently the superior option, over opiate-based pharmaceuticals that have negative side effects, there is no way it can be promoted or prescribed by physicians across the board until the federal government loosens its reigns.
While a decision in this case may take weeks or months, rescheduling medical marijuana to Schedule III, IV or V would allow it to be prescribed, administered or dispensed for medical use, as well as open up many possibilities for research and scientific advances. A reclassification would ultimately make it more widely accepted, granting relief for the patients who need it most.