Medical marijuana advocacy group sues the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Organization calls the agency's stance unjustified

Lizeth Cazares

Posted: 3/6/07

The Food and Drug Administration's anti-medical marijuana stance is being put into question by a California advocacy group.

Americans for Safe Access, the largest nationwide medical marijuana legislative group, filed a lawsuit Feb. 21 against the FDA in an effort to make the FDA repeal its stance that marijuana has no proven medical use.

Joe Elford, chief council for ASA, said there have been plenty of studies conducted that show marijuana's use for the care of HIV/AIDS patients and in pain relief.

"The FDA's statement that there is no proof that marijuana can be used in medical purposes is just plain-out false," Elford said. "There have been plenty of studies that show marijuana has plenty of uses. There has been an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that there is medical use of marijuana." Elford added that the organization has made several past attempts to contest the FDA's stance.

"We've been intervening for four years in large part to correct the statement," he said. "We've created and distributed literature that demonstrates the medical benefits of medical marijuana, and in October of 2004 we filed a petition under the Health and Human Services' Data Quality Act."

After two years of contesting the stance under the Data Quality Act, a provision that ensures "quality, objectivity, utility and integrity of information," the FDA finally denied the ASA's appeal. At that point, the organization decided to pursue a lawsuit.

"If they sincerely did not believe that marijuana had no medical use, they could have denied it in a period of two months," Elford said. "But they chose to drag it out for months to make sure it didn't go to court."

Despite the lawsuit, the FDA maintains that marijuana has no basis being used as a drug.

FDA spokesperson Sandy Walsh said the FDA, along with other government agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, are against the use of marijuana as a medicine.

"There's no sound scientific evidence," she said. "It hasn't been put through a rigorous process and hasn't been proven to be safe and effective."

Walsh added that medical marijuana has not gone through the application process necessary to be approved by the FDA.

She said while the FDA acknowledges that medical marijuana has been proven to help with HIV and to treat nausea, the effects of using marijuana can be harmful to one's health.

"Smoking has been proven to be harmful," she said.

She also added that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is against medical marijuana because the amount of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, cannot be controlled and the drug is therefore unsafe to distribute.

However, some doctors do not agree that marijuana should be prohibited for patients who could potentially benefit from its effects.

Dr. Neil Flynn, infectious disease professor at the UC Davis Medical Center, said he was part of a group of doctors who sued the government in an effort to legalize the use of medical marijuana.

"We got all the way to the Supreme Court, who rejected it on the basis that the government has control on the use of medical marijuana," Flynn said.

He added that he has seen a positive effect of marijuana on patients suffering from HIV, including weight gain and pain control. He said he has written several prescriptions for medical marijuana.

"I do think it has a place in medicine," he said.

He said he thinks that medical marijuana should become legal for those with a valid prescription.

"We ought not let ideology prevent us from providing help for those who need it," he said. "It doesn't take a genius to see that it works."

LIZETH CAZARES can be reached at
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