Group Challenges U.S. Marijuana Law

BY Jacqueline Soohoo and Emily Solovieff
Contributing Writers
Wednesday, October 6, 2004

A Berkeley-based medical marijuana advocacy group filed a legal petition against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Monday, in an attempt to force the department to change its stringent policies on the drug.

The group, Americans for Safe Access, argue that the department’s stance on medical marijuana violates the Data Quality Act, which requires the federal government to use reliable scientific information in decision-making.

In 2001, the department concluded that “scientific and medical evaluation reaffirms expressly that marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

But medical marijuana activists say this stance ignores current scientific evidence for the uses of the drug, said the group’s campaign director Hilary McQuie.

“We filed the petition because the document that HHS presented to deny the rescheduling of marijuana was inaccurate, biased and incomplete,” McQuie said.

Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug—along with heroin and LSD—and has no accepted medical use in the United States.

The organization is seeking to push the department to recognize that many doctors believe medical marijuana is useful in treating patients, McQuie said.

If successful, there would be one less hurdle to reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug, which would allow it to be prescribed legally at the federal level, McQuie said.

McQuie said she has high hopes for the petition.

“People are very excited—it’s a new approach,” she said. “There’s a lot of momentum right now so it seems like it has a fighting chance. I think we can definitely see marijuana being rescheduled during the next presidential term.”

Nine states, including California, currently allow patients to obtain medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription. The cultivation, sale and use of the drug, however, remains illegal under federal law, leading to tension between states and the federal government.

But some activists for medical marijuana say it is essential to reform the current federal law.

“It’s important so that patients can get safe access to their medicine and not live in fear of arrest or have to obtain it on the black market,” McQuie said.

Although Berkeley hosts a Medical Marijuana Week, the sale and cultivation of medical marijuana continue to be hot-button topics in the city.

On Sept. 21, the Berkeley City Council passed an ordinance creating a three dispensary quota for the city. Three dispensaries already operate within city limits.

Measure R—the Patient's Access to Medical Cannabis Act of 2004—will appear on Berkeley ballots Nov. 2, which would help make medical marijuana easier for qualified patients to obtain.

Opponents of the measure argue that the new law would exempt new medical marijuana outlets from review and approval by the city.

Contact Jacqueline Soohoo and Emily Solovieff at

(c) 2003 The Daily Californian
Berkeley, CA

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