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Victor Bohm | October 11, 2020

READ: Military Veterans Group Asks Federal Court To Hear Marijuana Case Challenging DEA Classification

A major military veterans group is urging a federal court to take up a case challenging the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) restrictive classification of marijuana.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), an advocate for expanding cannabis research, said in an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last week that the current scheduling status of marijuana under federal law is inhibiting studies that could demonstrate the plant’s therapeutic potential in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This comes one week after a coalition of scientists and veterans—including Sue Sisley of the Scottsdale Research Institute and the Battlefield Foundation—submitted a plaintiffs’ brief to the court, outlining the history of cannabis criminalization and arguing that DEA’s justification for keeping marijuana in Schedule I is unconstitutional. They want the court to force DEA to reconsider its decision to reject a 2020 petition calling for rescheduling.

“Medical marijuana holds promise for treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but randomized controlled studies with real-world medical marijuana are necessary to determine the efficacy and safety of medical marijuana as a PTSD treatment,” the veterans group said in their new filing. “A significant percentage of combat veterans develop PTSD, and suicide is more frequent among veterans suffering PTSD. Consequently, the prevention or delay of clinical research into medical marijuana as a safe and effective treatment has a direct impact on IAVA’s constituency.”

IAVA said that the Schedule I status of cannabis “prevents the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] and private practitioners from studying the efficacy, benefits and risks of medical marijuana and thus harms veterans’ health and welfare.” Further, it “keeps life-saving treatment away from veterans suffering with PTSD who reside in states where medical marijuana is not available or where medical marijuana is available, but cannot be afforded.”

Travis Horr, director of government affairs for IAVA, told Marijuana Moment that the group’s members “have made it clear that they support research done on the use of cannabis as a treatment option.”

“It is for these reasons that IAVA believes it is crucial to remove cannabis as a schedule I drug, to allow this research to be done and potentially provide much-needed relief for veterans,” he said.

In its filing with the federal court, group cited a survey it conducted that shows 20 percent of veteran respondents reported using cannabis or cannabinoids for therapeutic purposes, and they reason that’s partly because nearly half of veterans say that federally approved medications available to them are ineffective.

“Veterans suffering from PTSD, their loved ones, and America as a whole can only benefit from knowing more about the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana as a treatment for PTSD. If the treatment is safe and effective, more veterans will find relief from a debilitating disorder. If the treatment is not safe or effective, then veterans will stop self-medicating with and doctors will stop prescribing medical marijuana for PTSD, and scientists can turn their focus to other potential treatments or cures.”

IAVA also referenced a report released earlier this year by a federal commission that was responsible for issuing recommendations to improve mental health treatment for veterans. That report similarly observed that cannabis, as well as certain psychedelics, could hold significant therapeutic potential—but the plant’s legal status “precludes VA from conducting research on their efficacy.”

“The United States of America is morally compelled to address injuries—both physical and psychological—veterans suffer as a result of their military service,” the IAVA brief states. “There is overwhelming evidence that PTSD is a severe injury suffered by a significant percentage of veterans and that veterans with PTSD are more likely to take their own lives than veterans with no such psychological injury.”

“Our country should be doing everything it can as quickly as it can to find treatments for PTSD and help prevent veteran suicide, including properly interpreting the Controlled Substance Act so as to not impose unwarranted barriers to research,” it continues. “Both the executive and legislative branches of government have made the prevention of veteran suicide and related medical research national priorities, and yet the DEA continues to insist on a Catch 22 that effectively prevents approved clinical research study of medical marijuana as a PTSD treatment.”

The group also said DEA restrictions on cannabis means that researchers have been unable to access marijuana that reflects what’s available in state commercial markets. That’s also an issue that would be addressed legislatively under a bill that cleared a House committee last month.

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“Without such clinical studies, veterans who live in states where medical marijuana is not available as a treatment for PTSD cannot obtain the treatment, and veterans who can obtain the treatment in states where it is legal do so at their own personal expense, without coordination with their VA medical teams, and without any scientific evidence to establish the promise of the efficacy and safety of the treatment,” IAVA said.

This isn’t the first time that this group of scientists and veterans has taken the feds to court over their marijuana decisions.

The plaintiffs were also successful in forcing DEA to issue an update on the status of applications to become federally authorized cannabis manufacturers for research purposes and then got the Justice Department to hand over a “secret” memo that DEA allegedly used to justify a delay in deciding on those proposals.

Meanwhile, DEA could also become involved in a separate U.S. Supreme Court case challenging its marijuana scheduling actions.

In a petition filed in July and formally docketed for a private conference at the high court on Friday, a group of patients and advocates asked the justices to take up their case challenging the constitutionality of federal cannabis prohibition. This comes after a series of rulings in lower courts since the original lawsuit was filed in 2017.

Seven members of Congress and a slew of marijuana reform groups submitted legal documents last month urging the court to take up the case.

Separately, a federal court recently ruled that California regulators must comply with a DEA subpoena demanding information about marijuana businesses that they are investigating.

Read: IAVA’s amicus brief on the marijuana scheduling case here

This piece originally ran in the Marijuana Moment publication on October 8, 2020.

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