Federal District Court Judge Asks: Should Federal Law Classify Cannabis As One Of The Nation’s Most Dangerous Drugs?October 20, 2014
Testimony regarding the constitutionality of the federal statute designating marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance will be taken on Monday, October 27 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California in the case of United States v. Pickard, et. al., No. 2:11-CR-0449-KJM.
Members of Congress initially categorized cannabis as a Schedule I substance, the most restrictive classification available, in 1970. Under this categorization, the plant is defined as possessing “a high potential for abuse, … no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, … [and lacking] accepted safety for … use … under medical supervision.”
Expert witnesses for the defense – including Drs. Carl Hart, Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University in New York City, retired physician Phillip Denny, and Greg Carter, Medical Director of St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Washington – will testify that the accepted science is inconsistent with the notion that cannabis meets these Schedule I criteria.
“[I]t is my considered opinion that including marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is counter to all the scientific evidence in a society that uses and values empirical evidence,” Dr. Hart declared. “After two decades of intense scientific inquiry in this area, it has become apparent the current scheduling of cannabis has no footing in the realities of science and neurobiology.”
The government intends to call Bertha Madras, Ph.D., Professor of Psychobiology at Harvard Medical School and the former Deputy Director for Demand Reduction for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush.
Additional evidence has been presented by way of declarations by Marine Sgt. Ryan Begin, a veteran of the Iraq War; Jennie Stormes, the mother of a child suffering from Dravet Syndrome – a pediatric form of epilepsy that has been shown in preliminary trials to respond to specific compounds in the cannabis plant; James Nolan, Ph.D. an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at West Virginia University and a former crime analyst for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Christopher Conrad, noted cannabis author, archivist, and cultivation expert.
This is the first time in recent memory that a federal judge has granted an evidentiary hearing on a motion challenging the statute which classifies cannabis to be one of the most dangerous illicit substances in the nation. Attorneys Zenia Gilg and Heather Burke, both members of the NORML Legal Committee, contend that the federal government’s present policies facilitating the regulated distribution of cannabis in states such as Colorado and Washington can not be reconciled with the insistence that the plant is deserving of its Schedule I status under federal law.
They write: “In effect, the action taken by the Department of Justice is either irrational, or more likely proves the assertions made in Part I (B) of this Brief: marijuana does not fit the criteria of a Schedule I Controlled Substance.”
Speaking recently in a taped interview with journalist Katie Couric, United States Attorney General Eric Holder expressed the need to revisit cannabis’ Schedule I placement under federal law. Holder said, “[T]he question of whether or not they should be in the same category is something that I think we need to ask ourselves, and use science as the basis for making that determination.”
The testimonial part of the evidentiary hearing in United States v. Pickard, et. al., is expected to last three days.
The temptation is to celebrate the enormous progress we have made over the last few years by legalizing marijuana for medical use in 22 states and the District of Columbia. Even more importantly, we’ve legalized marijuana for all adults in Colorado and Washington.
Thus, it’s easy to presume we’re getting near the finish line in this decades long struggle to legalize marijuana.
But that would be both presumptuous and premature.
The reality is that marijuana smokers remain the target of aggressive and misguided law enforcement activities in most states today. They read about the newly-won freedoms in a handful of states, and dream of the day when their state laws will become more tolerant; but they are still being busted in large numbers and have to worry that that next knock on the door may be the police with a search warrant, about to destroy their homes and wreck their lives, looking for a little weed.
The Drug Enforcement Agency is permitting Kentucky farmers to go forward with plans to engage in the state-sponsored cultivation of industrial hemp.
According to the Associated Press, representatives from the federal anti-drug agency late Thursday granted Kentucky regulators permission to import an estimated 250 pounds of hemp seeds.
The agency had previously confiscated the seeds, which Kentucky officials had ordered from Italy. In response, Kentucky’s Agriculture Department sued the agency last week.
After two federal hearings, as well as a face-to-face meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), DEA officials on agreed to authorize the shipment of hemp seeds to go forward — ending the approximately month-long standoff. Kentucky’s first modern hemp planting may occur as soon as this weekend, the Associated Press reports.
In February, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal farm bill authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. Since then, five states — Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Utah — have enacted legislation authorizing state-sponsored hemp cultivation. (Similar legislation is pending in Illinois and South Carolina.)
Kentucky lawmakers initially approve legislation regulating hemp production in 2013.
According to a 2013 white paper authored by the Congressional Research Service, a “commercial hemp industry in the United States could provide opportunities as an economically viable alternative crop for some US growers.”
South Carolina lawmakers have approved legislation, Senate Bill 839, reclassifying varieties of cannabis possessing minute quantities of THC as an industrial crop rather than a controlled substance. The measure states, “It is lawful for an individual to cultivate, produce, or otherwise grow industrial hemp in this State to be used for any lawful purpose, including, but not limited to, the manufacture of industrial hemp products, and scientific, agricultural, or other research related to other lawful applications for industrial hemp.”
Members of the Senate voted 42 to zero in favor of the bill. House members late last week also approved the measure by a vote of 72 to 28. Senate Bill 839 now awaits action by Republican Governor Nikki Haley.
In February, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal Farm Bill (aka the United States Agricultural Act of 2014) authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. Since that time, lawmakers in five states — Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Utah — have enacted legislation allowing for state-sponsored hemp cultivation.
On Monday, Illinois Senate members unanimously approved similar legislation, House Bill 5085, in their state. Members of the House had previously voted 70 to 28 in favor of an earlier version of the bill. Once both chambers agree to concurrent language, the measure will go to the Governor’s desk.
In total, more than a dozen states have enacted legislation redefining hemp as an agricultural commodity and allowing for state-sponsored research and/or cultivation of the crop.
Last week, Kentucky state officials sued the US Drug Enforcement Administration after the agency refused to turn over a shipment of hemp seeds that were intended to be used as part of a state-approved research program. State officials designed the program to be compliant with Section 7606 of the federal farm bill. A federal hearing in the matter is scheduled for Wednesday, May 21.
According to the U.S. Congressional Resource Service, the United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop.
The Arizona Supreme Court this week rejected a 1990 state law that classified the presence of inert THC metabolites in blood or urine as a per se traffic safety violation.
Carboxy-THC, the primary metabolite (breakdown product) of THC is not psychoactive. Because it is lipid soluble, the metabolite may remain detectable in blood or urine for periods of time that extend well beyond any suspected period of impairment. As a result, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledges, “It is … currently impossible to predict specific effects based on THC-COOH concentrations.”
Nonetheless, under Arizona law, the mere presence of carboxy THC — absent any evidence of behavioral impairment — was considered to be a criminal violation of the state’s traffic safety laws. (Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Utah impose similar statutes.) On Wednesday, the Court struck down the provision.
Writing for the majority, Justice Robert Brutinel opined: “The State’s interpretation that ‘its metabolite’ includes any byproduct of a drug listed in § 13-3401 found in a driver’s system leads to absurd results. … Most notably, this interpretation would create criminal liability regardless of how long the metabolite remains in the driver’s system or whether it has any impairing effect. For example, at oral argument the State acknowledged that, under its reading of the statute, if a metabolite could be detected five years after ingesting a proscribed drug, a driver who tested positive for trace elements of a non-impairing substance could be prosecuted.”
He added: “Additionally, this interpretation would criminalize otherwise legal conduct. In 2010, Arizona voters passed the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (“AMMA”), legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Despite the legality of such use, and because § 28-1381(A)(3) does not require the State to prove that the marijuana was illegally ingested, prosecutors can charge legal users under the (A)(3) provision. Because carboxy-THC can remain in the body for as many as twenty-eight to thirty days after ingestion, the State’s position suggests that a medical-marijuana user could face prosecution for driving any time nearly a month after they had legally ingested marijuana.”
The Court concluded: “Because the legislature intended to prevent impaired driving, we hold that the ‘metabolite’ reference in § 28-1381(A)(3) is limited to any of a proscribed substance’s metabolites that are capable of causing impairment. Accordingly, … drivers cannot be convicted of the (A)(3) offense based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana.”
The Court did not address provisions in the state’s per se DUI law outlawing the operation of a motor vehicle with any presence of THC in one’s blood even though, according to NHTSA, “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.”