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OAKLAND – Today’s issue of Time magazine reports that new research on the medical use of marijuana is one of the most significant medical developments of 2005. This article comes just one week after the final deadline for response to a legal challenge brought by a medical marijuana advocacy group that asks the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to stop claiming there is no medical use for marijuana.
According to Time, “Research into the analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis continued to bolster the case for the medicinal use of marijuana, making the ‘patient pot laws’ that have passed in 11 states seem less like a social movement than a legitimate medical trend. One trial--the first controlled study of its kind--showed that a medicine containing cannabis extracts called Sativex not only lessened the pain of rheumatoid arthritis but actually suppressed the disease. An earlier study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that synthetic cannabinoids, the chemicals in marijuana, can reduce inflammation in the brain and may protect it from the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's disease.”
Despite the widespread acceptance of scientific research like this, the federal government continues to claim that there is no medical use for marijuana. That claim is being challenged by Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based medical marijuana advocacy group. HHS has yet to respond to the medical marijuana group’s administrative appeal of HHS’s earlier denial of its petition under the Data Quality Act, requesting the department correct its statements that marijuana is not considered to have medical value. As a result, Americans for Safe Access is preparing to sue HHS for its failure to respond. The appeal has been pending since last May, even though the department’s guidelines specify that it will respond to such requests within 60 calendar days.
“The government’s failure to meet its obligations under the DQA is a violation of its own procedures,” said Steph Sherer, ASA’s executive director. “HHS should not be standing in the way of medical advances.”
The Administrative Procedure Act allows judicial review to compel agency action when such action is “unreasonably” delayed. If Americans for Safe Access prevails in its petition, the Department of Health and Human Services will have to change its published information on medical marijuana and publicly admit that marijuana is now effectively used for medical treatment, clearing the way for medical reclassification that would allow doctors to prescribe it to their patients nationwide.
The United Kingdom reclassified marijuana from class B to class C in 2004, meaning they have determined marijuana has a low risk of addiction and few long-term health hazards. After one year, the government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs affirmed the reclassification. Despite concerns that reducing criminal penalties would increase use, the number of people using cannabis has fallen by more than 1% in the first full year after possession of the drug was made a less serious offense, and the UK has reportedly freed-up police resources to fight hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
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