Challenging the Feds

On Oct. 4 medical marijuana advocates with Americans for Safe Access filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking that the agency correct misinformation disseminated regarding medical use of pot.

"[The] HHS repeatedly misstates the scientific evidence and ignores numerous reports and studies demonstrating the medical utility of marijuana and its constituent compounds," reads the petition. According to the ASA, the HHS' conclusion that "marijuana has no currently accepted use in treatment" lacks the "objectivity, utility, and integrity of information" required by the federal Data Quality Act.

On behalf of patients nationwide who are "deeply and immediately affected by the [HHS'] controverted statements," the ASA is asking that the agency acknowledge that "adequate and well-recognized studies" show the efficacy of marijuana in the treatment of nausea, loss of appetite, pain, and spasticity, and that there is a consensus among medical experts on the benefits of medi-pot.

Finally, and critically, the ASA wants the HHS to conclude that "marijuana has a currently accepted use in treatment in the United States" – a finding that would help reformers to get marijuana rescheduled from a Schedule I to a Schedule III substance under the Controlled Substances Act.

The feds consider Schedule I drugs to have no redeeming medical value – and therefore there is no reason for their possession. Conversely, Schedule III drugs – including various barbiturates, codeine, lysergic acid (the LSD precursor), GHB, Ketamine (aka "Special K"), anabolic steroids, and methadone – have medicinal use and can be legally obtained by patients, typically (though not always) by prescription.

The ASA and other medi-mari advocates descended on Washington, D.C., to deliver their petition and to rally at the HHS building, where they unfurled a 600-foot-long banner displaying the names of more than 7,000 doctors who support medical marijuana. The reformers – including medi-pot patients from across the country – tried to deliver the banner to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, but to no avail; 14 advocates were arrested after blocking entrance to the building.

The HHS has 60 days to respond to the ASA petition, ASA representative Stacey Swimme told the Drug Reform Coordination Network. "We expect them to ignore it, but after 60 days we will have the opportunity to take them to court," she said.

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