Pubdate: Wed, 15 Apr 2009
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: B - 2
Copyright: 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Referenced: Information Quality Act
Listen: To the oral arguments
Note: DQA Opening Appeal Brief
Also: President Obama's memorandum on scientific integrity
More: DQA Background info
Cited: Americans for Safe Access


A medical marijuana advocacy group and the Obama administration 
argued Tuesday before a federal appeals court in San Francisco over a 
private citizen's right to force the government to correct alleged 
misstatements - in this case, about the therapeutic properties of pot.

Americans for Safe Access filed suit in San Francisco two years ago 
under the Information Quality Act, a federal law that allows members 
of the public to "seek and obtain correction" of false or misleading 
government information that affects them.

The organization said its members include seriously ill people who 
had been discouraged from using marijuana by the U.S. Department of 
Health and Human Services' long-standing position that the drug has 
no medical value. The department declined to respond to the suit, 
saying the Drug Enforcement Administration was still considering the 
advocacy group's 2002 request to reconsider the status of marijuana.

On Tuesday, a Justice Department lawyer told the Ninth U.S. Circuit 
Court of Appeals that the law allowing private citizens to seek 
correction of government misinformation can't be enforced in court.

Congress created "no judicially enforceable rights" when it passed 
the Information Quality Act in 2000, said attorney Alisa Klein. She 
said the law requires only that a federal agency review such requests 
from members of the public; otherwise, she said, courts would be 
flooded with demands to second-guess government decisions on 
countless subjects.

The government's position would make the law meaningless, argued Alan 
Morrison, the lawyer for Americans for Safe Access. Although some 
disputes are too subjective for court intervention, he said, others 
can be measured objectively - for example, "two plus two is four and 
not five" - and the law gives judges a role in keeping the government on track.

Members of the three-judge panel seemed torn.

"The statute is amazing and troubling," said Judge Marsha Berzon. But 
she told Klein that the law appears to allow people affected by 
government misinformation to get it corrected, under court order if necessary.

Federal law classifies marijuana among the most harmful drugs, with 
no legitimate use, but allows the DEA to ease restrictions based on 
new scientific evidence. Americans for Safe Access asked the DEA to 
reclassify marijuana during President George W. Bush's 
administration, and - after getting no response - asked the 
Department of Health and Human Services to correct its alleged 
misstatements under the Information Quality Act.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup of San Francisco dismissed the suit 
in November 2007, saying the law did not require any action by the 
department. The advocacy group wants the appeals court to reinstate 
the case and order the department to respond to its complaint. 
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