Government Pressed to Defend Medical Marijuana Policies with Sound Science or Face Federal Lawsuit

May 02, 2006

(Tuesday, May 2 – Washington, DC) – Lawyers on behalf of thousands of cancer, AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, chronic pain and other patients today sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) demanding a response to their petition filed 18 months ago claiming that the government’s policies on medical marijuana are in violation of the Data Quality Act (DQA).

The patient advocacy group – Americans for Safe Access – says the government is circulating misinformation that ignores scientific data proving that marijuana can ease suffering for certain illnesses.

“Politics is trumping science when it comes to the government’s medical marijuana policies,” says Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “While HHS is ignoring the evidence, sick people are suffering.”

Under the DQA, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 2000, the information circulated by federal agencies must be fair, objective and meet certain quality guidelines. It also permits citizens to challenge government information believed to be inaccurate or based on faulty, unreliable data.

ASA filed their original petition with HHS in October, 2004. Under the law, public petitions must receive a response within 60 days. Indeed, approximately every 60 days ASA has received a letter – a total of eight of them -- from HHS telling them that the Department needs “additional time to coordinate Agency review.” But since the FDA released their high-profile Inter-Agency Advisory on April 20 stating that “no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana,” ASA will not tolerate further delays. If HHS does not issue a definitive response by June 12, 2006, says the letter, a suit will be filed in federal district court.

“The jig is up,” says attorney Joseph Elford, who sent the letter to HHS on ASA’s behalf. “If the HHS refuses to offer the truth to the American people, then we will take them to court and let the facts speak for themselves.”

Established research, federal reports and patient experience all show marijuana works for pain, nausea, loss of appetite, anxiety and the severe muscle spasms associated with Multiple Sclerosis, spinal injury and other conditions. Even the government’s own Institute of Medicine – part of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences – found in 1999 that marijuana is “moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting.”

ASA is specifically requesting the following factual corrections from HHS:

* HHS states that: "there have been no studies that have scientifically assessed the efficacy of marijuana for any medical condition." ASA requests that HHS replace this statement with the following statement: "Adequate and well-recognized studies show the efficacy of marijuana in the treatment of nausea, loss of appetite, pain and spasticity."

* HHS states that: "a material conflict of opinion among experts precludes a finding that marijuana has been accepted by qualified experts" and "it is clear that there is not a consensus of medical opinion concerning medical applications of marijuana." ASA requests that HHS replace this statement with the following statement: "There is substantial consensus among experts in the relevant disciplines that marijuana is effective in treating nausea, loss of appetite, pain and spasticity. It is accepted as medicine by qualified experts."

* HHS states that: "a complete scientific analysis of all the chemical components found in marijuana has not been conducted." ASA requests that HHS replace this statement with the following statement: "The chemistry of marijuana is known and reproducible."

* HHS states that marijuana: "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." Based on the corrections above, ASA requests that HHS replace this statement with the following statement: "Marijuana has a currently accepted use in treatment in the United States."

Currently eleven states have laws permitting patients to legally use marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation, but these laws are at odds with the federal prohibition that categorizes marijuana as more dangerous than cocaine or amphetamines. The Department of Health and Human Services is one of the four entities that can independently change the classification of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. The others are the Drug Enforcement Administration, Congress, and the Executive Branch.

Click here to review the letter sent by ASA to HHS on May 2, 2006.
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Americans for Safe Access (www.safeaccessnow.org) is the nation’s largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic uses and research.

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