Federal Position on Medical Marijuana Put Before Ninth Circuit

April 10, 2009
San Francisco, CA -- Medical marijuana advocates will get to argue before the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, April 14th, the right to challenge an outdated position held by the federal government: "marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." The national advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed a lawsuit in February 2007 demanding that the federal government cease issuing misinformation and correct its statements on medical marijuana. "We welcome the Obama Administration's recently stated commitment to making policy decisions based on science, not politics," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with ASA. "This case is designed to ensure that the federal government's policy on medical marijuana is not politically motivated."
What: Oral arguments in a case before the Ninth Circuit that challenges the government's position on medical marijuana
When: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 9:30am
Where: Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Courtroom 4 at 95 Seventh Street, San Francisco, CA

In order to challenge the government's position, advocates are using a little-known law called the 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 disseminating information to the public. One of the main issues in the case is whether citizens have a right to challenge government information believed to be inaccurate or based on faulty, unreliable data.

"The science to support medical marijuana is overwhelming,"  said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "It's time for the federal government to acknowledge the efficacy of medical marijuana and stop holding science hostage to politics." On March 9, 2009, President Obama issued a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies stating that, "The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions," and calling for "transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking."

The original DQA petition was filed in October of 2004, aimed at forcing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) -- the FDA's parent agency -- to correct statements about the medical value of marijuana. After more than two years of delay by the federal government and a refusal to act on the petition, a lawsuit was filed in February of 2007. Despite a rejection by the federal district court in late 2007, Science Magazine published an editorial that year claiming that HHS had "violated its own DQA guidelines."

Preeminent legal scholar Alan Morrison, who founded Public Citizen's Litigation Group and who currently teaches at American University's Washington College of Law, is co-counsel in the case and will be arguing before the court on behalf ASA and patients across the country. "Citizens have a right to expect the government to be transparent and to use the best available information for policy decisions," said Morrison. "Unfortunately, so far, the government has been anything but transparent and has failed to produce any evidence for its policy statements on medical marijuana." In April 2006, while ASA was awaiting a response to the petition from HHS, the FDA issued a statement claiming that it conducted an "inter-agency review" and had "concluded that no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana..." However, none of the alleged scientific evidence used to reach that conclusion was ever provided to ASA or the public.

Further information:
DQA Opening Appeal Brief: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DQA_Appeal_Brief.pdf
President Obama's memorandum on scientific integrity: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Memorandum-for-the-Heads-of-Executive-Departments-and-Agencies-3-9-09/
DQA Background info: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/DQA

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