Judge To Rule On Law That Classifies Marijuana As One Of The Most Dangerous Drugs
This is KPBS Midday Edition here Komori Cavanagh. The first legally permitted medical marijuana dispensary in San Diego overcame this last bureaucratic hurdle at City Hall today now plans to open in early March. But after almost 20 years of being legal in California, there's still debate about whether marijuana has legitimate medical benefits. One reason the debate continues is because researchers have trouble lately obtaining marijuana because because of the schedule one federal drug costs station. In a surprising move the last year a federal judge in California has agreed to re-examine the constitutionality of that classification. Joining me or Alex credit Thomas Jefferson school of Law professor who specializes in drug issues and he's the former chair of the San Diego medical marijuana task force Alex will come back to the show ISIR have any Dr. Carmen Polito is a psychologist with the VA medical Center and assistant professor that the psychiatry department at UC San Diego -- Dr. Polito welcome to the show. Thank you for having the. L Alex how unusual is it for a judge to examine to or read examine the classification of marijuana? It's a really unusual development. A lot of defendants have been making this argument that there's a constitutional problem with marijuana's classification under federal law currently and typically judges kind of dismiss it out of hand without holding any sort of hearing. It's a lately very tough argument to make to say that this classification rises to the level of constitutional problem. So the fact that he resorted is a very kind of a surprising thing -- and there was something five days of testimony that were heard. The fact that the judge did order a hearing and spent so much time doing it tells me the judges taking the claim pretty seriously because federal courts they're doctored their dockets are crowded they're not likely to just order hearing just for the sake of it. Unless they think that there's at least some potential liability pliability to the area No wonder California law marijuana is legal for medical use but under the eyes of the federal government, is classified as a schedule 1 drug. You to remind us what that schedule one means? Yes oh schedule one classification really means that the drug has in the eyes of federal law no currently accepted medical use for treatment in the United States and a quote high potential for abuse. So it's really so both of those things. That's really the two main criteria for something to be a schedule 1 Troy. There are a lot of drugs that I think you know are you struck relationally that people think are more serious and marijuana that are actually scheduled to, cocaine is scheduled to because there is a recognized medical use for cocaine as sort of a limited use but there's enough recognizing that that schedule 2. So it being schedule one is not entirely about the severity of the drug per se but it is in part the severity is Farsi abuse potential in the eyes of the federal government and in part whether the federal government believes there's an accepted medical use for the drug. Was a legal basis for the argument for reclassifying marijuana? Primarily they're arguing and equal protection grounds basically saying there is no rational basis for the marijuana in schedule 1 when there are no which is synthetic THC is schedule 3 and so THC being one of the prime components of marijuana and so -- that I think sort of is the heart of the argument that there's not really a rational basis for having marijuana and so forth in schedule 1 and Sanders notes that the medical use for the plant when you have this in having form of THC in schedule 3 witches oh schedule that says there is an accepted medical use was and a schedule that says there's a lower potential for abuse than the schedule 1 drugs. Dr. Carmen Polito, do you think the schedule one classification for marijuana is a fair assessment of the drug tech You know is very interesting to really join this discussion because I think that one of the things where we tend to get a little bit confused is that what we are talking about cannabis the plant -- you know there's all this evidence that it is indeed a potentially addictive substance. Now this is very different from saying that some of the 80+ active cannabinoids and cannabis is not potentially good for some form of therapeutic intervention. So I think that it is fair that cannabis with all its 80+ components stays in schedule 1 but that is very different from where the scientific community thinks when it comes to research and any potential medicinal value of other components. Some rechargers have complained because it does have that schedule one classification that there have been a hard time getting federal grants to do federal research to find out if there is any medical benefit to marijuana to document the anecdotal things that we have heard in the other studies that we've seen about its benefits for nausea and epilepsy and glaucoma and other diseases like that. So if it were downgraded, wouldn't it be easier to actually conduct that kind of medical research to see how dangerous the drug is or and what kind of benefits it might have That's an interesting point. It is difficult to gather funding for the can of research project. That being the study of cannabis for the study of behavioral intervention. The National Institutes of Health is actually actively funding some research protocols right now. Even the FDA has approved a queen heard earlier, of proof a synthetic THC. Now moving cannabis as a whole lot of schedule 1 doesn't necessarily mean that better research ideas are going to come about or that granting agencies will be more interested in funding these research projects. The truth is that only really sound theories can't convince something agencies but the benefit of using these substance with humans outweigh the risk. And I think that that's one of the you know one of the difficulties of doing more research. I think that when it comes to dumping agencies granting agencies they're very cautious and how they're moving forward Alex isn't Dr. Polito just said that cannabis is addictive isn't that still debatable as well? Will you know I think that certainly I think the debate seems to center around how addictive or how much of a potential for abuse there is for marijuana relative to other substances -- is it as addictive as other substances in schedule 1 -- heroine for example that you are truly say has a high potential for abuse or is it perhaps a lower-level potential for abuse like perhaps other sorts of prescription drugs that you see in schedule 3 or schedule form or relative to all coal which of course is perfectly legal and exempted from regulation of the controlled substances act. I think there's a lot of debate there. And with respect to the research, the other issue that kind of goes beyond just the funding is the fact that schedule one substances have a lot of regulatory hurdles to research that substances and schedules to or below simply don't have. If you're dealing with a schedule 1 substance come up for example like now with marijuana there's only one place University of Mississippi that's legally licensed to grow the marijuana and because of that monopoly, researchers to just have a hard time getting the marijuana but having have a hard time getting certain strains were things they might want to research in the kind of goes all down the line schedule one substances of very very very very tightly controlled and regulated for from the manufacturer all the way down to the researchers. There's a push Alex to get a recreational marijuana initiative on the California budget ballot that is in 2016 -- how could this reclassification if it happens of marijuana impact that or US drug policy in general? Well I think that if marijuana were to be reclassified under the current system it wouldn't solve the problem of the conflict instead of federal laws by any means. It would really just change the nature of the circuit marijuana were to be in schedule 2 or three, those are still very heavily regulated schedules. The medical marijuana dispensaries operating right now medical marijuana states they would not be by any means in compliance with the regulations that you have to do for a schedule to our schedule 3 drug and as long as the scheduled company cannot be so for recreation -- just for medicine. So really if there was to try and solve those conflicts between recreational legal laws and federal of marijuana would have to be simply removed from the schedules entirely. Of conspicuous professor out right for the Thomas Jefferson school of Law and Dr. Carmen Polito psychologist at the VA medical center and you're listening to KPBS Midday Edition.
The first legally-permitted medical marijuana dispensary in San Diego overcame its last bureaucratic hurdle on Thursday.
But after almost 20 years of being legal in California, there's still debate about whether medical marijuana has legitimate benefits.
One reason the debate continues is because researchers have trouble legally obtaining marijuana because of its Schedule 1 federal drug classification.
Schedule 1 is the federal classification given to substances "with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse". Examples of other Schedule 1 drugs are heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
In a surprising move late last year, a federal judge in California agreed to re-examine the constitutionality of that classification with final arguments expected next month.
Alex Kreit, a law professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, said he was surprised by the judge's move.
"This is a really unusual development," Kreit told KPBS Midday Edition. "It's legally a tough argument to make. The fact that the hearing was ordered was a surprising thing."
Kreit, who is also the former chair of the San Diego Medical Marijuana Task Force, said he believes the debate centers around how addictive and the potential abuse that can derive from marijuana use.
But there's also little research done on medical marijuana use.
Carmen Pulido, a psychologist a the VA Medical Center at UC San Diego, said it's difficult to gather funding for research projects but the National Institute of Health is actively doing research now on marijuana.