Advocacy group's suit calls on U.S. to acknowledge pot's medicinal value

By Eric Bailey
Times Staff Writer

February 22, 2007

SACRAMENTO A patient advocacy group sued the federal government Wednesday to try to force U.S. health agencies to acknowledge that marijuana has merit as a medicine.

The lawsuit by Americans for Safe Access follows a two-year effort to reverse what it calls a "misinformation campaign" by U.S. health agencies.

Americans for Safe Access is suing under the Data Quality Act, a little-known statute that lets citizens challenge the accuracy of government-disseminated information.

The Oakland-based group filed a petition in October 2004 asking the United States to reverse its staunch opposition to pot as medicine. After months of delays, the government rejected the petition.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services said the agency could not comment because of the litigation.

For years, U.S. regulators have said marijuana has no accepted medicinal value.

Such statements are "false and misleading," Americans for Safe Access said in its lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland. The group cited peer-reviewed studies suggesting cannabis can be effective for AIDS wasting, muscle spasticity and chronic pain.

The government's stance ignores its own studies, activists say.

A 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine declared that marijuana showed medicinal promise and advocated the development of cannabis-based drugs.

Since then, the University of California has begun several rigorous studies to test marijuana's medical efficacy. Last week, a UC San Francisco researcher announced that clinical trials found marijuana helped treat HIV pain.

Meanwhile, British drug company GW Pharmaceuticals won Canadian approval for a marijuana spray for multiple sclerosis. The firm hopes to eventually market Sativex in the United States.