On the heels of a recent University of California,
San Francisco study which confirmed that smoking marijuana
eases pain for people living with HIV/AIDS, medical marijuana
advocates filed a lawsuit last month against the federal government
in an effort to correct its claim that "marijuana has
no accepted medical value."
Americans for Safe Access (ASA), an Oakland-based national
medical cannabis advocacy organization, filed a lawsuit last
month in the United States District Court for the Northern
District of California demanding that the federal government
cease issuing misinformation on medical cannabis and correct
the information it has released.
"The science to support medical cannabis is overwhelming,
yet the government continues to play politics with the lives
of patients desperately in need of pain relief," said
ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "Americans for Safe
Access is filing this lawsuit to demand that the FDA stop
holding science hostage to politics."
The suit charges a violation of the little-known Data Quality
Act (DQA). The DQA requires federal agencies such as Health
and Human Services (HHS) and the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) to rely on sound science when developing policies or
positions. It also allows citizens to challenge government
information believed to be inaccurate or based on faulty,
unreliable data. ASA's case specifically challenges the government's
position that "marijuana has no accepted medical value,"
and seeks to correct that position through the recognition
of evidence in the U.S. and around the world showing its clear
array of medical benefits.
"The FDA's position on medical cannabis is incorrect,
dishonest and a flagrant violation of laws requiring the government
to base policy on sound science," said Joe Elford, Chief
Counsel for Americans for Safe Access.
This legal challenge is the outcome of a more than two-year
petition process, through which ASA had exhausted all appropriate
administrative channels. The initial petition, to force HHS
— the FDA's parent agency — to correct statements
about the medical value of cannabis was filed in October 2004.
Despite the requirement that DQA petitions be responded to
within a 60-day period, the government delayed its response
as long as possible. More than two years later, the government
denied the petition as well as an appeal filed by ASA in May
2005. Using the DQA's judicial review provisions, the Oakland-based
organization is now taking its cause to the courts.
"Citizens have a right to expect the government to use
the best available information for policy decisions. This
innovative case turns the Data Quality Act into a tool for
the public interest," said preeminent legal scholar and
one of the lawsuit's co-counsel Alan Morrison, who founded
Public Citizen's Litigation Group and currently serves as
a senior lecturer at Stanford Law School.
Medical cannabis advocates assert that scientific research,
1999 Institute of Medicine study, indicates that cannabis
is effective in treating some illnesses. Currently, a dozen
US states permit the use of medical marijuana. However, because
the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers marijuana
a dangerous drug with a high potential for abuse, patients
and their caregivers can still be arrested and prosecuted
by federal authorities.
According to Mr. Elford, if the lawsuit is successful, the
change would make it easier for states to develop their own
medical marijuana policies. On the contrary, the government's
current position, in addition to discouraging people who might
benefit from using cannabis therapeutically, bolsters DEA
attempts to crack down on medical marijuana patients and providers
who are acting in accordance with their state law.
"I had side effects from morphine patches, oxycontin,
and oxycodone before starting a medical cannabis regime that
has allowed me to get off prescription drugs and live virtually
pain-free," said Blackfoot, Idaho resident Victoria Lansford,
a named patient in the lawsuit who suffers from fibromyalgia.
"The government's refusal to face up to the science is
irresponsible and harms citizens like me for whom this treatment
is a lifeline."
ASA hopes to force the FDA and its parent agency HHS to stop
issuing information that unnecessarily casts doubt on the
proven efficacy of marijuana in treating various illnesses.
But, ASA also hopes that the lawsuit will produce further
research into the medical benefits of cannabis, thereby funding
the promise that cannabis holds not only for symptomatic alleviation,
but also for treating and curing disease. The lawsuit is unique
from previous legal efforts to decriminalize medical marijuana
as it seeks to get a federal agency simply to acknowledge
that cannabis has medical value in treating an array of conditions.
For more information on the lawsuit, including legal documents,
fact sheets and information on the lawyers and named plaintiffs
involved in the challenge visit:
www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/DQA. For information on
other medical studies of cannabis, visit the
Center for Medical Cannabis Research..
Editor's Note: Caren Woodson
is Director of Government Affairs for
Americans for Safe Access.
ASA is the largest national member-based organization of
patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned
citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic
use and research. ASA works to overcome political and legal
barriers by creating policies that improve access to medical
cannabis for patients and researchers through legislation,
education, litigation, grassroots actions, advocacy and services
for patients and the caregivers. ASA has over 30,000 active
members with chapters and affiliates in more than 40 states.