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, including a 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.