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Medical marijuana group sues feds

WASHINGTON (BP)–An organization advocating legalization of marijuana for medical use is suing the federal government over alleged inaccurate information used to warn of the drug’s dangers.

Opponents of marijuana for medicinal purposes, however, note that there are justifiable reasons for not legalizing the drug in such instances.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a pro-medical marijuana group, has filed a lawsuit citing the Department of Health and Human Services and Food and Drug Administration as defendants. The lawsuit calls for both HHS and the FDA to retract the claim “there have been no studies that have scientifically assessed the efficacy of marijuana for any medical condition.”

The FDA’s stance “on medical cannabis is incorrect, dishonest and a flagrant violation of laws requiring the government to base policy on sound science,” said Joe Elford, chief counsel for ASA.

The Drug Free America Foundation (DFAF), a foe of medical marijuana, has countered, “It is important to realize that the campaign to allow marijuana to be used as medicine is a tactical maneuver in an overall strategy to completely legalize all drugs.”

The DFAF is a non-governmental organization committed to developing global strategies and policies to reduce illegal drug use, drug addiction, drug-related injury and death.

Barrett Duke, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s vice president for public policy, expressed concern over the lack of knowledge about marijuana, citing 400 chemicals in the drug that scientists have very little information on. A longtime foe of medical marijuana, Duke said this means states do not have mechanisms in place to assure the quality of the drug that is being used or the knowledge to discern the effects of the chemicals on the human mind and body.

In response to such concerns, Kris Hermes, legal campaign director for ASA, said even if there are negative side effects from marijuana, the person who is suffering should be free to choose those consequences over living with the symptoms of his medical condition.

As a basis for its suit, the ASA cited the Data Quality Act (DQA), an amendment passed in 2001 to ensure the quality, objectivity, utility and integrity of information disseminated by federal agencies. The ASA said multiple scientific studies confirm the medical efficacy of marijuana, as evidence of why HHS should retract its claims about marijuana.

HHS has delayed requests filed under the amendment in the past, according to the ASA, which claimed it had no other option than to file a lawsuit asserting that the government’s statements deter sick and dying people from obtaining the medical relief they need.

The FDA does not comment on pending litigation, the agency’s senior policy advisor, Kathleen Quinn, said in response to a Baptist Press request for reaction to the Feb. 21 lawsuit.

Duke and Hermes also disagreed on the broader impact of medical marijuana.

The legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes will reduce the drug’s stigma, resulting in many people becoming “more comfortable with the idea of its use, and some of them will decide to experiment with it,” Duke said. “This experimentation will certainly lead to increases in drug use by all age groups, and especially by youth.”

The ASA expressed no concern about this possibility, however.

“If … Duke can show evidence in the states that have passed medical marijuana laws that such laws have directly increased drug use among the broader population, I might have a reason to comment,” Hermes said.

The Drug Free America Foundation, meanwhile, has said medical marijuana initiatives and bills address protecting the rights, privacy and safety of the user, but that is only part of the issue. The DFAF warned such measures offer no explanation as to how states intend to keep marijuana cultivators and users from distributing to minors, driving under the influence, consuming in public places or endangering others they come in contact with.

“Marijuana decriminalization legislation puts society at risk of drug-related injury, illness, addiction and death,” the DFAF said.

Eleven states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use.

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  • Dustin McNab