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Suit to Make Feds Admit Pot's Benefits Rejected

by Bob Egelko

An advocacy group's attempt to force the federal government to concede that marijuana could have therapeutic qualities has been snuffed by an appeals court.

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) Americans for Safe Access sued the government in 2007 under the Information Quality Act, a decade-old law that allows people to compel federal officials to correct false statements. Private citizens must show that a statement affects them and fails to meet an agency's published standards for accuracy.

The organization said its members include seriously ill people who have been discouraged from using marijuana by the Department of Health and Human Services' long-standing position, stated most recently in 2001, that the drug has no medical value.

The department declined to respond to the request. It said the Drug Enforcement Administration was still considering the issue in its review of Americans for Safe Access' 2002 application to reconsider the status of marijuana.

The DEA classifies pot as among the most dangerous drugs, with no legitimate use.

On Thursday, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the lawsuit was premature because the government is still pondering the 8-year-old request. The agency has not yet taken a final action that can be challenged in court, the three-judge panel said.

Joseph Elford, the group's lawyer, wasn't convinced. Federal officials continue to insist that marijuana has no accepted medical use, he said, and have declared as recently as 2008 that a decision on the status of marijuana was imminent.

Elford said he would ask the court for a rehearing.

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