Medical Marijuana Activists Besiege HHS, Demand Rescheduling 10/8/04

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Medical marijuana activists from around the country converged on Washington, DC, over the weekend for actions culminating in a demonstration with civil disobedience and 14 arrests at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Organized by Americans for Safe Access, or ASA (http://www.safeaccessnow.org), the Tuesday demonstration followed on the heels of the delivery of a petition demanding that HHS make use of the most accurate scientific information about the medicinal uses of marijuana to reschedule the herb as a substance with recognized medical uses.

Chanting "Truth and Evidence, Cannabis is Medicine" and "Schedule I to Schedule III, Cannabis is Helping Me," around one hundred people listened to testimonials from patients before unfurling a 600-foot banner with over 7,000 names of doctors who had signed onto a statement promulgated by the Marijuana Policy Project supporting medical marijuana. Along the border of the banner was repeated the phrase, "Accepted Medical Value."
ASA demonstrators prepare to be arrested
courtesy Marijuana Policy Project
Demonstrators then demanded that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson come down from his office and meet with them to see for himself the roster of doctors supporting medical marijuana. When Thompson failed to show, the demonstrators demanded to be let in the building to deliver the banner personally. After a brief standoff, 14 demonstrators sat down to block the doors to the main entrance of HHS and were quickly arrested. Among those engaging in civil disobedience were DRCNet's associate director David Guard and ASA's executive director Steph Sherer, as well as patient and parent Erin Hildebrandt, SSDP's Scarlett Swerdlow and Tom Angell, and many others.

"We had patients from California, Washington, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Maryland, and Rhode Island," said Sherer. "It was beautiful. Only about a hundred patients could make it, but they represent close to 10,000 others organized in patient groups in those states. This is a message to whatever administration is in power come January that we are not going away."

What ASA and the patients want is for HHS to adhere to the requirements of the federal Data Quality Act, which mandates that information used and disseminated by government agencies meet standards for "quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information," as the ASA petition notes. Instead of using accurate, up-to-date information about the medical efficacy of marijuana, ASA charged, "HHS repeatedly misstates the scientific evidence and ignores numerous reports and studies demonstrating the medical utility of marijuana and its constituent compounds."

ASA has highlighted HHS's 2001 determination that "marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States" as violating the Data Quality Act by ignoring numerous studies attesting to the herb's numerous medicinal uses. That determination came as HHS reviewed a 1995 petition to reschedule marijuana, a petition it rejected.

ASA and the patients are seeking specific changes in the HHS determination of marijuana's medical uses. Where HHS found that "there have been no studies that have scientifically assessed the efficacy of marijuana for any medical condition," ASA requests that HHS replace this statement with the following statement: "Adequate and well-recognized studies show the efficacy of marijuana in the treatment of nausea, loss of appetite, pain and spasticity."

Where HHS found that "it is not clear there is a consensus" regarding the medicinal uses of marijuana, ASA requests that it be replaced with: "There is substantial consensus among experts in the relevant disciplines that marijuana is effective in treating nausea, loss of appetite, pain and spasticity. It is accepted as medicine by qualified experts."

And most critically, where HHS holds that marijuana "has no accepted medical use...," ASA asks that that statement be replaced with: "Marijuana has a currently accepted use in treatment in the United States."

"HHS has 60 days to respond," said ASA field manager Stacey Swimme. "We expect them to ignore it, but after 60 days we will have the opportunity to take them to court," she told DRCNet. "We want them to change their policy to say they recognize that cannabis does have medical and therapeutic efficacy and that they recommend to the DEA that it reschedule marijuana to Schedule III. The DEA must accept the HHS recommendation," Swimme added.

"HHS can recommend to the DEA at any time that it reschedule marijuana," said Swimme. "If they wished, they could create a panel to review the most recent research that indeed shows cannabis is safe and effective. That's what we want them to do."

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Issue #357, 10/8/04 Editorial: A Tragedy in the Capital | Medical Marijuana Activists Besiege HHS, Demand Rescheduling | Drug Policy and the Presidential Election -- Introduction | The Election I: Bush and Kerry on Drugs: Past Records and Platform Planks | The Election II: Drug Reformers on Kerry and Bush, Nader and Badnarik | The Election III: DRCNet Interview: Independent Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader | The Election IV: DRCNet Interview: Michael Badnarik, Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate (repeat) | Newsbrief: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Critical Federal Sentencing Cases | Newsbrief: Needle Exchange Bill Passes New Jersey Assembly | Newsbrief: Protests Rise over Award as Thai Prime Minister Prepares for New Round of Drug War | Newsbrief: Bolivia's Chapare Cocaleros Sign Historic Agreement with Government | Newsbrief: DEA Pulls Prescription Pain Medicine FAQs Without Explanation | Newsbrief: Hemp Crops in Western Australia Stymied By Licensing Requirements | Newsbrief: Atlanta Cops Use Forfeited Funds to Buy Bigger Guns | Newsbrief: No Asset Forfeiture for Misdemeanor Drug Charges, Tennessee Says | Newsbrief: Texas DA Says Doctors Must Turn In Drug-Using Pregnant Women | Newsbrief: Another Killer Cop Walks Free | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | This Week in History | Administrative Assistant: Part-Time Job Opportunity at DRCNet | The Reformer's Calendar
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