Medical pot advocates sue feds over false info
Josh Richman, STAFF WRITER
Article Last Updated: 02/21/2007 12:38:02 PM PST

ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer.
Read the full complaint.(PDF)

(Photo courtesy of Americans for Safe Access)
Medical marijuana advocates have sued the federal Department of Health
and Human Services, accusing it of lying to the nation about the
drug's lack of accepted medical use despite scientific studies showing
its efficacy.
The lawsuit, filed today in federal court in Oakland, comes a week
after the release of a controlled, clinical University of California,
San Francisco study showing HIV patients who smoked marijuana found
relief from chronic foot pain.

"We are asking the courts to weigh in on the science ... and force the
government to stop making false statements about medical cannabis,"
said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access.

ASA attorney Joe Elford said the lawsuit is brought under the federal
Administrative Procedure Act, which provides for judicial review and
reversal of any agency action found to be arbitrary and capricious.

ASA in October 2004 had petitioned the Department of Health and Human
Services and its subordinate Food and Drug Administration under the
Data Quality Act, a 2000 law requiring information circulated by
federal agencies to be fair, objective and meet certain quality
guidelines. That law lets citizens challenge government information
believed to be inaccurate or based on bad data; ASA's petition claimed
the government has ignored scientific studies and medical consensus on
marijuana's efficacy as medicine.

HHS denied the petition in 2005 and denied an appeal in July 2006.
Those decisions are arbitrary

and capricious, Elford said, and so Americans for Safe Access has been
biding its time ever since to sue.
"We aimed to file this lawsuit at a time when the country was talking
about the science," Sherer said, but her group doesn't think it even
needs the newly released UCSF study to bolster its case; it believed
the science was solid enough when it petitioned HHS in 2004.

"The federal government has had enough information in front of it for
years to break the gridlock on this issue," she said. "We're suing to
demand that the FDA stop holding science hostage to politics."

Sherer is one of four medical-marijuana users used as examples in the
lawsuit. She suffered a neck injury in 2000 and later developed kidney
problems from the ibuprofen and other painkillers she'd been
prescribed. The government told her marijuana had no medical use, so
she was delayed in seeking a doctor's advice to the contrary and
finding relief, she says.

California voters approved medical use of marijuana by passing
Proposition 215 in 1996, but federal law still bans the drug's
cultivation, possession and use. Despite years of lobbying by
advocates, it remains on the nation's list of most-restricted drugs --
along with substances such as heroin and LSD -- without accepted
medical use. And despite a 1999 federal Institute of Medicine study
urging more research, studies like UCSF's still face enormous
obstacles and so remain rare.

Medical marijuana patients Angel Raich of Oakland and Diane Monson of
Oroville sued federal law enforcement officials in 2002, claiming the
federal government lacks authority to prosecute California's patients
and providers. The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2005 ruled 6-3 to uphold
federal prosecutions, finding that even marijuana grown in back yards
for personal medical use can affect or contribute to the illegal
interstate marijuana market and so is within Congress' constitutional
reach.

But the court, in a footnote, did "acknowledge that evidence proffered
by respondents in this case regarding the effective medical uses for
marijuana, if found credible after trial, would cast serious doubt on
the accuracy of the findings that require marijuana to be listed"
among the most-restricted drugs.

Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@angnewspapers.com or (510) 208-6428.

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