Pending Federal Case May Undo Federal Marijuana Prohibition Laws

We usually do not get excited over cases where a Federal judge is asked to deviate from Federal laws regarding marijuana — because they never do. This time, though, we are all ears, as according to The Daily Beast, this Federal judge is really listening:

After a five-day hearing in California, [U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller] is considering the validity of the science surrounding pot’s classification as one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. In May, she became the first judge in decades to agree to hear evidence relating to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s classification of marijuana which puts it in the same category as heroin and meth. Over the next few weeks, Mueller will comb through hundreds of pages of witness testimony, scientific research, and public health policy to determine whether the Schedule I Substance classification of marijuana is unconstitutional.

Should Judge Mueller strike down marijuana’s current scheduling, it will assuredly create a torrent of similar legal challenges in Federal courts around the country. What makes this case so unusual and potentially important is that it was Judge Mueller who seemed to push for conducting an evidentiary hearing on the validity of marijuana’s Schedule I classification in what would have been an otherwise run of the mill Federal marijuana criminal case. Judge Mueller seems to be basing her decision to hear such evidence on a footnote from the infamous 2005 case of Gonzalez v. Raich, where U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Stevens opened the door to a scientific review of treating marijuana as a Schedule I drug: 

We acknowledge that evidence proffered by respondents in this case regarding the effective medical uses for marijuana, if found credible after trial, would cast serious doubt on the accuracy of the findings that require marijuana to be listed in Schedule I … Respondents’ submission, if accepted, would place all homegrown medical substances beyond the reach of Congress’ regulatory jurisdiction.

Judge Mueller determined that Stevens’ footnote justified hearing evidence on the Schedule I issue, ruling that “there is new scientific and medical information raising contested issues of fact regarding whether the continued inclusion of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance … passes constitutional muster.”

The five day evidentiary hearing consisted of a heated debate  between physicians, drug policy experts, and government leaders. The defense (remember this is a criminal case) called multiple credible medical and social policy experts to testify regarding the medicinal value of marijuana. The federal government called only one witness, Dr. Bertha Madras, a Professor of Psychobiology at Harvard Medical School and the former drug czar under George W. Bush. Dr. Madras based her testimony on the claim that “marijuana has no accepted medical value,” and that marijuana has not satisfied the “high standards of proof necessary to obtain FDA approval.” She also claimed that marijuana “contains significant amounts of toxic chemicals,” and that there is “no such thing as medical marijuana.” With (now) 25 states and D.C. having some form of marijuana decriminalization or legalization, whether medicinal or for adult use, Dr. Madras’s testimony is out of touch with reality.

Judge Mueller will need to review thousands of pages of complicated testimony and evidence and we should not expect her decision on whether marijuana should remain a Schedule I drug to issue for a few months at least. We will be following this case closely and updating you whenever anything breaks on it as this case could end up taking us a significant step closer to wiping out the failed war on marijuana.