Pot-users want judge to de­clare mar­i­juana safe un­der U.S. law

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By Karen Matthews

NEW YORK » Army vet­eran Jose Be­len says the hor­rors of the Iraq War left him with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, and the drug that helped him cope best with the symp­toms was one his Veter­ans Af­fairs doc­tors could not legally pre­scribe: mar­i­juana.

“Once I did use cannabis, im­me­di­ately I felt the re­lief,” said Be­len, who is now work­ing with other med­i­cal mar­i­juana users to mount a long-shot court chal­lenge to fed­eral laws crim­i­nal­iz­ing the drug.

The 35-year-old, mar­ried father of two is one of five plain­tiffs in a law­suit claim­ing that the govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to clas­sify mar­i­juana as dan­ger­ous is ir­ra­tional, un­con­sti­tu­tional and mo­ti­vated by pol­i­tics, not hard science.

A govern­ment lawyer ar­gued Wed­nes­day be­fore U.S. Dis­trict Judge Alvin Heller­stein in New York that the case should be dis­missed, cit­ing prece­dents in which judges up­held the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of ex­ist­ing mar­i­juana laws.

The govern­ment also is ar­gu­ing that the plain­tiffs have not pe­ti­tioned the Drug En­force­ment Agency to re­clas­sify mar­i­juana.

“Any per­son can sub­mit a pe­ti­tion to the DEA,” As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Sa­muel Dolinger said.

The plain­tiffs’ lawyers said the ad­min­is­tra­tive process takes an av­er­age of nine years.

The suit orig­i­nally was filed in July as a grow­ing num­ber of states broke with the fed­eral govern­ment and de­clared mar­i­juana to be le­gal. Thirty have now le­gal­ized it in some fash­ion, in­clud­ing six for recre­ational use.

The law­suit chal­lenges the list­ing of mar­i­juana as a Sched­ule I drug, a cat­e­gory that in­cludes heroin and LSD. The fed­eral govern­ment says drugs un­der the clas­si­fi­ca­tion have no ac­cepted med­i­cal use and can­not legally be pre­scribed.

The law­suit names the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions and the DEA as de­fen­dants.

The other plain­tiffs in­clude:

For­mer NFL player Marvin Washington, the co­founder of a com­pany that sells hemp-based sports per­for­mance prod­ucts;

A non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion called the Cannabis Cul­tural As­so­ci­a­tion that helps mi­nori­ties ben­e­fit from the mar­i­juana in­dus­try in states where it is le­gal;

Twelve-year-old Alexis Bortell, who takes mar­i­juana to con­trol epilepsy, and 7-year-old Jag­ger Cotte, who uses mar­i­juana to treat a se­vere neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der called Leigh’s syn­drome.

Heller­stein, who re­served judg­ment on the mo­tion to dis­miss the case, evinced sym­pa­thy for the plain­tiffs’ claims that med­i­cal mar­i­juana has helped them.

“How could any­one say that your clients’ lives have not been saved by mar­i­juana?” Heller­stein asked Michael Hiller, the lead at­tor­ney for the plain­tiffs.

But Heller­stein ap­peared to take the govern­ment’s ar­gu­ment that the plain­tiffs should pe­ti­tion the DEA se­ri­ously.

“When agen­cies are set up to do the very thing that you want me to do, the right thing to do is de­fer to the agency,” he said.

Med­i­cal re­search on mar­i­juana has been sharply con­strained by fed­eral law. The Amer­i­can Psy­chi­atric As­so­ci­a­tion says there’s not enough ev­i­dence to sup­port us­ing mar­i­juana to treat PTSD.

MARK LENNIHAN — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mau­rice Evans, left, Blake Hunt, cen­ter, and An­gel Martinez leave the fed­eral court af­ter at­tend­ing a hear­ing, Wed­nes­day in New York. The three at­tended to show their sup­port for a law­suit that claims the govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to clas­sify mar­i­juana as dan­ger­ous is ir­ra­tional, un­con­sti­tu­tional and mo­ti­vated by pol­i­tics, not hard science. Judge Alvin Heller­stein has in­di­cated that he is sym­pa­thetic to some pa­tients who use cannabis to treat med­i­cal con­di­tions.

MARK LENNIHAN — AP

Iraq war vet­eran Jose Be­len, who takes mar­i­juana to treat post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, poses in front of fed­eral court, Tues­day in New York. Be­len is one of five plain­tiffs in a law­suit chal­leng­ing fed­eral mar­i­juana laws. He was set to ap­pear in a New York court­room on Wed­nes­day for ar­gu­ments in a law­suit that claims clas­si­fy­ing mar­i­juana as a dan­ger­ous drug is ir­ra­tional and un­con­sti­tu­tional.

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