Marijuana's Drug Status Should Change, Lawyers Say

Law professors argue that current classifications block medical research.

ByABC News
April 21, 2010, 8:15 PM

April 22, 2010— -- Dan Pope has been using medical marijuana for six years to help control the muscle spasms and pain from muscular dystrophy.

"I get very extreme hip, lower back pain and pain going to down to my leg -- it gets so bad I can't move," said Pope, 44, of Longmont, Colo. "I get very jerky -- I couldn't hold a cup of coffee, my balance and my gait becomes very much affected."

"By using medical marijuana late in the afternoon [when his symptoms hit], I can find immediate relief from my muscle spasms," said Pope, who is the volunteer patient outreach coordinator for Sensible Colorado, a non-profit focused on drug policy reform.

Medicinal marijuana is legal in Pope's state, and legal in varying degrees in 13 others -- California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Hawaii, Nevada, Vermont, Montana, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Michigan and New Jersey.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in February 2009 that the Justice Department will not prosecute local medical marijuana dispensaries who abide by state laws.

Pope, who grows his own plants, may be safe from prosecution. But he still believes the federal government should change its classification of medical marijuana -- and increasingly, so do others including the American Medical Association.

On Wednesday, the New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial by two law professors arguing that the federal government should change the status of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.

The current classification, the professors argued, stopped researchers from studying the purported medical benefits and health risks of cannabinoid-based medicine even though state laws allowed doctors to prescribe the drug.

"We saw, looking at the different state laws that they're kind of all over the map in terms of the conditions they approved and the quantities [of marijuana] that they permit," said Diane Hoffmann, professor of law at the University of Maryland School of Law, who wrote the article with fellow professor Ellen Weber.