Jo Anne Zito (l.), 43, from the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey, and Dr. Caroline Hartridge (r.), a family physician from Long Island, outside court on Wednesday. (JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
A judge weighing whether pot should be considered a dangerous drug under federal law seemed sympathetic to medical marijuana advocates during a hearing Wednesday.
Manhattan Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein heard arguments for a July 2017 lawsuit in which several medical marijuana users sued the federal government.
Under federal law, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug — meaning it’s considered so dangerous that doctors can’t legally prescribe it for medical use.
While 30 states have reportedly greenlighted ganja use in some way, users and vendors could still get charged under federal law — regardless of whether it’s medical or recreational, the suit states.
The law also limits research into medical marijuana — so its potentially life-saving uses can’t be adequately assessed, the suit charges.
The civil complaint is pushing for the present classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance to be ruled illegal.
Some of the plaintiffs include Alexis Bortell, a 12-year-old girl with epilepsy whose seizures ceased when she started a “whole-plant Cannabis” regimen, court papers state.
Another, 7-year-old Jagger Cotte, has Leigh’s Disease — which typically kills children by age 4. But since taking high THC-concentrated medical marijuana, he “has stopped screaming in pain, has been able to interact with his parents, and has prolonged his life by more than two years,” the suit contends.
Jose Belen, who developed PTSD after his Army tour in Iraq, said medical marijuana has effectively treated his PTSD, according to court papers.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel Dolinger, who argued for Hellerstein to toss the suit, said there was no accepted medical use for marijuana in the United States.
He referenced a 1970 act of Congress that opposed the drug’s use to “protect the health and welfare” of the people, and another act in 1998 for “public safety concerns.”
But Hellerstein was skeptical.
“How can you say that? … ‘There is no currently accepted medical use in the United States,’” Hellerstein asked. “Your argument doesn’t hold.”
“It could be recognized to have some medical use” if the laws change, Dolinger said.
At one point, Hellerstein also said to the five plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael Hiller: “Your clients are living proof of the medical effectiveness of marijuana.”
“How could anyone say your clients’ lives have not been saved by marijuana?” Hellerstein also remarked. “You can’t.”
“I couldn’t agree more, your honor,” Hiller replied.
Though Hellerstein didn’t doubt medical marijuana’s potential, he had reservations about whether the lawsuit could proceed on legal grounds.
Hellerstein said it wasn’t clear whether he had the power to rule on the dispute over pot’s place in the drug Schedule – or whether advocates needed to pursue changes through government agencies.
Hellerstein will issue a decision at a later date.