The U.S. Supreme Court has the opportunity to lift federal restrictions on marijuana. A group that advocates on behalf of medical marijuana patients has asked the nation's highest court to decide whether marijuana is a dangerous drug with no medical value.

Americans for Safe Access on Monday appealed a District of Columbia Circuit Court decision that upheld marijuana's federal Schedule I status.

"It is only by failing to apply the appropriate standards and make the required comparisons that the federal government could conclude that marijuana is as harmful as heroin and PCP and even more harmful than methamphetamine, cocaine and opium, and should remain in the CSA's most restrictive Schedule I," the appeal states (PDF).

The D.C. Circuit ruled in January that the Drug Enforcement Agency could continue to classify the marijuana plant a Schedule I drug, a classification reserved drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. Though ASA cited more than 200 peer-reviewed studies on marijuana's medical benefits, the court held the drug could not be reclassified without FDA-approved Phase II and Phase III clinical trials.

In their appeal, ASA contends the D.C. Circuit Court was wrong to equate "currently accepted medical use" with only FDA-approved studies. The D.C. Circuit Court also "simply ignored that marijuana has an extremely low abuse potential relative to other controlled substances, despite having been presented voluminous evidence," according to the appeal.

The federal government itself bears responsibility for the lack of FDA-approved clinical trials on marijuana.

Those hoping to conduct medical research on marijuana must obtain a DEA license and FDA approval. Researchers also must obtain the plant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). However, the NIDA has refused to provide researchers with marijuana, even for studies approved by the FDA. In 2010, NIDA admitted it did not support "research focused on the potential medical benefits of marijuana."

The American Medical Association has urged the federal government to reclassify marijuana "with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods."

[Nurse holds medical marijuana via Shutterstock]