Army veteran Jose Belen says the horrors of the Iraq War left him with post-traumatic stress disorder, and the drug that helped him cope best with the symptoms was one his Veterans Affairs doctors could not legally prescribe: marijuana.

“Once I did use cannabis, immediately I felt the relief,” said Belen, who is now working with other medical marijuana users to mount a long-shot court challenge to federal laws criminalizing the drug.

The 35-year-old, married father of two is one of five plaintiffs in a lawsuit claiming that the government’s decision to classify marijuana as dangerous is irrational, unconstitutional and motivated by politics, not hard science.

Government lawyers will argue Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in New York that the law is well-grounded and the case should be dismissed.

The suit originally was filed in July as a growing number of states have broken with the federal government and declared marijuana to be legal. Thirty have now legalized it in some fashion, including six for recreational use.

The lawsuit challenges the listing of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, a category that includes heroin and LSD. The federal government says drugs under the classification have no accepted medical use and cannot legally be prescribed.

The lawsuit names the Department of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Drug Enforcement Administration as defendants.

The other plaintiffs include:

— Former NFL player Marvin Washington, the co-founder of a company that sells hemp-based sports performance products;

— A nonprofit organization called the Cannabis Cultural Association that helps minorities benefit from the marijuana industry in states where it is legal;

— Twelve-year-old Alexis Bortell, who takes marijuana to control epilepsy, and 7-year-old Jagger Cotte, who uses marijuana to treat a severe neurological disorder called Leigh’s syndrome.

Poised and outwardly calm, Belen, who lives in Orlando, Florida, said he left a post-military career in insurance to found an organization called Mission Zero that works to end suicide among veterans.

Medical research on marijuana has been sharply constrained by federal law, but Belen said he found it effective for taming PTSD symptoms while other medications pushed him closer to depression and possibly suicide.

He said it is unfair that federal law prohibits him from crossing state lines with the drug, even when traveling to states where it is legal.

“I went to Iraq to free the oppressed and I view …read more