Pubdate: Mon, 12 Dec 2016
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Bob Egelko
Page: C1


Defending the government's classification of marijuana as one of the
most dangerous drugs, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
declares on its website that pot causes mental illness and lung cancer
and leads youths to heroin and cocaine.

But an advocacy group says the DEA, in a legal filing in August, said
it found no evidence to support any of those conclusions. The group,
Americans for Safe Access, has asked the agency to remove discredited
claims from its Web page.

"We have taken this action to stop the DEA's relentless campaign of
misinformation about the health risks of medical cannabis," said Menlo
Park attorney Vickie Feeman, who represents Americans for Safe Access.
She said the agency's public statements, and its "refusal to ...
acknowledge the scientifically proven benefits of medical cannabis,"
are harming patients around the country.

"This is something President Obama can correct before he leaves
office," the group said in a statement. It indicated it would file
suit if the agency refuses to remove the statements. The DEA declined
to comment.

The agency, part of the Justice Department, classifies marijuana,
along with heroin, LSD and ecstasy, as dangerous drugs with a high
potential for abuse and no legitimate medical use, making possession a
crime under federal law. Proposals to shift marijuana into the same
classification as methamphetamine and cocaine, which can be legally
prescribed, have been rejected by successive administrations, most
recently by the Obama administration in August.

In a petition to the DEA last Monday, Americans for Safe Access said
the agency's website contains more than two dozen statements about
marijuana that may have had some scientific support when they were
first posted years ago but are no longer credible. They include
assertions that:

"Marijuana use can worsen depression and lead to more serious mental
illness such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and even suicide."

According to one study, "smoking one cannabis cigarette increases the
chances of developing lung cancer by as much as an entire packet of 20

Youngsters who use marijuana are "15 times more likely to use heroin
later in life."

The advocacy group said the DEA itself undermined each of those
statements in August in a filing in which the agency refused to
reclassify marijuana but rejected some previous misconceptions.

In that filing, the agency said numerous studies showed that marijuana
users were no more likely than nonusers to suffer mental illness. It
also said that smoking marijuana could cause health problems but that
recent studies have found little evidence of any connection with lung
cancer. And it said research "does not support a direct causal
relationship between regular marijuana use and other illicit drug use."

Meanwhile, the advocacy group said, the DEA has kept its earlier
contradictory statements on its website, where they may influence
members of Congress who are considering legislation to reclassify
marijuana and bar federal interference with states that allow medical
use of the drug.

For example, the petition said, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said
at a June 2015 hearing of the Senate Drug Caucus that marijuana is "a
gateway drug" whose users "go on to other things."

Asked whether Feinstein still holds that view, spokesman Ross Townsend
said Friday that the senator has introduced a bill to expand medical
marijuana research but "still has concerns about negative effects of
recreational use," which California voters legalized last month.

Feinstein "is particularly concerned about the proliferation of stoned
drivers, increased youth access to marijuana and the effects of
increasingly high THC levels," Townsend said, referring to the
ingredient that causes most of marijuana's psychological effects.
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