Medical Marijuana

Result-Oriented Science

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Science Editor in Chief Don Kennedy notes that medical marijuana activists are using the Data Quality Act (DQA) to demand that the Department of Health and Human Services correct its false statements about the medical utility of cannabis, a step toward reclassifying the drug so it can be legally prescribed. The law requires federal agencies to ensure the "quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity" of the information they disseminate. To his credit, Kennedy, who headed the FDA in the Carter administration, says "it's already clear that HHS has violated its own DQA guidelines" by insisting that marijuana "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." But he casts doubt on his commitment to empiricism by saying the DQA lawsuit, which was filed by Americans for Safe Access, "turns the tables on DQA." In what sense? The law, you see, is typically used by "industry or industry organizations" to challenge regulations (a bad thing), but now it is being used by "health activists" to help patients who can benefit from medical marijuana (a good thing).

That's one way of looking at it. Here's another way: In both cases, the people challenging the government are seeking to roll back (or forestall) restrictions on freedom they believe are unjustified. And in both cases, they are saying the government has its facts wrong. Whether it does or not is an empirical question that should not hinge on whether one thinks "industry" is icky or has warm feelings toward "health activists."