Father fights to legalize marijuana in bid to help son

By Brandi Kellam

/ CBS News

Father fights to legalize medical marijuana

New York — Despite many states legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, the Drug Enforcement Administration — an agency under the Justice Department — still considers it a Schedule 1 drug. That puts it on the same list as heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

A group of patients, families and activists are now appealing a decision in a lawsuit against the Justice Department in a push to get marijuana off that list. They hope it will pave the way for marijuana legalization across the country.

Sebastien Cotte, whose son Jagger was diagnosed with a severe neurological disorder called Leigh's disease, is among those involved. He is the representing guardian for his son in the lawsuit.

Cotte moved from Georgia to Colorado in 2014 so his son could be treated with medical cannabis. At that time, it was illegal to use cannabis for medicinal purposes in Georgia, while in Colorado, cannabis became fully legal in 2012.

"Right away we saw great improvement," Cotte said. "He started smiling again. … His seizures went down, his pain went down and we were able to take him off of some of his very strong medication like morphine and oxycontin."

Cotte said medical cannabis has also helped his son beat the odds.

"Life expectancy for kids that have this disease, if they are diagnosed before the age of 2, 95 percent of them do not make it past 4," Cotte said. "Jagger, a few months ago, just turned 8, so he's passed his life expectancy by four years now in great part because of medical cannabis."

The lawsuit over the classification of cannabis is being considered in a New York federal appeals court. Jagger, along with other plaintiffs, are pushing the federal government to remove the current Schedule 1 status, which would mean acknowledging that it has potential medical value and removing it from a category of drugs the government classifies as having highly addictive properties.

The government is arguing that courts have already heard similar cases and rejected them.

The group that is suing includes an Army veteran, who uses cannabis to treat PTSD, and a former NFL player.

Depending on the judge's decision, the group could get a new trial or end up petitioning to the Supreme Court.

"We just want a chance to prove and to show that cannabis has medical properties and cannabis can help patients and kids like Jagger," Cotte said.

Cotte and Jagger have moved backed to Georgia since they left the state in 2014. Cotte successfully advocated for legalizing medical cannabis there in 2015. But they still face legal challenges.

"In Georgia, (Jagger) has a right to have possession of cannabis oil, but be cannot take it out of the state. For example, he could not go to Charlotte where I am today on a trip," Cotte said. "He could not come with me because it would be illegal and if we get caught with his oil, I could end up in jail and Jagger could be taken by child services."

"So, Jagger cannot travel anywhere at all around the country because he cannot take his cannabis anywhere with him."

Georgia's medical marijuana law also does not address the purchase of cannabis.

"The law only creates a procedure to ensure qualified persons will be protected from prosecution for having it in their possession," the Georgia Department of Public Health says on its website.

First published on December 19, 2018

© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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