Medicinal Grass

Petitioning for pot.


Despite marijuana's low toxicity and long history of medicinal use, federal law puts it in a more restrictive category than morphine, cocaine, or amphetamines. After decades of unsuccessful attempts to correct this anomaly by petitioning the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), medical marijuana activists are trying a less direct approach.

In September, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) petitioned the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Data Quality Act, which is supposed to assure the accuracy of scientific information disseminated by the government, asking it to correct erroneous statements about marijuana in the Federal Register. In particular, ASA questions the assertion that "there have been no studies that have scientifically assessed the efficacy of marijuana for any medical condition" and the conclusion that "marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."

These statements are important because one of the criteria for placing drugs on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification that prevents doctors from prescribing marijuana, is a lack of accepted medical use. Among other indications that HHS has its facts wrong, ASA cites a 1988 decision in which a DEA administrative law judge said marijuana should be available by prescription; a 1999 review of the evidence concerning marijuana's medical utility by the National Academy of Sciences (a co-author of which told The Washington Post, "I can't understand why [marijuana] isn't rescheduled"); and a survey of oncologists in which more than 40 percent said they had recommended the drug to relieve the side effects of cancer chemotherapy.

The Data Quality Act gives HHS two months to respond to the petition. ?