Patients, Doctors, Supporters Head to Washington to Demand Rescheduling of Marijuana as a Medicine 9/24/04

Medical marijuana patients and supporters from around the country are heading to Washington a week from now to demand that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reschedule marijuana. Under current drug schedules, marijuana is considered a Schedule I, like heroin or PCP, with no approved medical uses.

Organized by Americans for Safe Access (http://www.safeaccessnow.org) under the rubric "Stop the Federal War on Patients Forever," demonstrators will begin converging on Washington on Saturday, October 2nd for a weekend of training and preparation, followed by a day of press and other events and the submission of a petition demanding that HHS revise its position that marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use" the following Monday, followed up by rally at HHS at 10:00am, Tuesday, October 5th.

The petition is being filed under the federal Data Quality Act, which mandates that government regulatory agencies take into account the most scientifically accurate information in arriving at decisions. If, after further consideration, HHS concedes that marijuana does have medical uses, the DEA would be forced to reschedule marijuana. Two earlier efforts to reschedule marijuana have been rebuffed, one after languishing for 16 years, the other rejected just prior to the commencement of DEA raids on California medical marijuana patients and providers by the John Ashcroft Justice Department.

"We believe there is enough medical and scientific research out there to more than justify rescheduling marijuana, and that if HHS complies with the Data Quality Act, it will have to recommend rescheduling," said Stacey Swimme, ASA field manager. "They have the ability to do it tomorrow if they want to. They have to take into consideration all research, not just research they want to see," she told DRCNet.

According to ASA, at this point, busloads of patients are set to come in from Philadelphia, New York, and Providence, as well as carpools bringing patients and supporters from West Virginia, southwestern Pennsylvania, eastern Maryland, and as far away as Jacksonville, Florida. But there will undoubtedly be patients from elsewhere as well, as groups including the Ohio Patients Network, Texans for Medical Marijuana, and patients from the Midwest have signed on to the effort.

Some, perhaps a busload, will be coming from Massachusetts, said Whitney Taylor, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts (http://www.dpfma.org). "There has been an e-mail sent out, and ASA has over a hundred people on their list here in Massachusetts alone, so there is a good chance we can fill a bus," she told DRCNet. "We ought to know by the middle of next week."

That the action targets rescheduling to make marijuana available as a medicine under federal law and includes public demonstrations makes it doubly attractive, said Taylor. "This is a very important action because it's a new approach, trying to work on the regulatory apparatus that is already in place," she said. "The more patients and doctors who come out in public for this and maybe even commit acts of civil disobedience will help get the point across about how important this is."

The timing of the action during the high political season is no accident, said Swimme. "We feel like there is a lot of media attention on Washington right now because of the election, and there is not necessarily a lot for those press people to do. We will give them something to write about," she said. "We feel like we have to get this message out before the election to remind people that medical marijuana is a major issue. It has 80% support across the country, more states will be voting on initiatives this fall, and we want to inform the next president that we're still here and we are not going to let what happened during the Bush administration happen again during the next four years, whether it's Bush or Kerry."

For more information about the "Stop the Federal War on Patients Forever" actions, visit Americans for Safe Access at http://www.safeaccess.org online.

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