On December 5, 2016, the non-profit group, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to demand that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) correct misinformation concerning cannabis from its website.
The DEA is an agency under the DOJ, and is held to the DOJ’s guidelines for disseminating public information. These guidelines are detailed in the provisions of the Information Quality Act (IQA, or Data Quality Act), a set of standards required for all federal agencies that was established in 2001.
In a big step forward for destigmatizing cannabis research and use in the country, the DEA removed 23 of the 25 factual inaccuracies cited by the ASA’s filing. The ASA called for the move by relying on the IQA’s three basic tenets of quality control, substantive review measures, and the public’s ability to file for citizen complaint.
While the removal of several of the ASA’s cited inaccuracies is vital to the growing push for more accountability, unbiased information, and accurate legislation, the DEA has yet to formally respond to the ASA’s lawsuit.
The Information Quality Act (IQA)
The IQA is a set of guidelines for all federal agencies that were published by the Office of Budget and Management (OMB), the largest office within the President’s Executive Office. It is the regulating body in charge of measuring the quality and compliance of agency programs, policies, and procedures.
The Data Quality Act forbids agencies from providing false information to the public, and requires agency response to requests for correction of information within sixty days. While the DEA has indeed taken down 23 of the 25 cited inaccuracies, ASA has called out the DEA for violating the 60-day timeline for formal response.
Jim Tozzi, a former regulatory official of the Office of Budget and Management (OMB), and the politician who led the charge in developing and publishing the OMB guidelines, stated that, “If the DEA does not take the necessary action to comply with the binding time lines in the IQA, petitioners can always seek an intervention by OMB,” as set by precedent in other federal court cases.
The IQA’s basic tenets call for agencies to adopt a basic standard of quality, to develop a process for reviewing the objectivity, utility, and integrity of their information, and to facilitate citizen review by establishing process for public complaint.
The Lawsuit: “Request for Correction of Information Disseminated by DEA Regarding Marijuana (Cannabis)”
The 2016 lawsuit legally petitioned the DOJ to correct misinformation about cannabis’s usefulness and effects which its agency, the DEA, continued to publish and distribute to the public.
ASA is a national nonprofit whose mission is to ensure safe and legal access to medical cannabis for research and therapeutic use.
Not only did the DEA’s insistence on publishing this data damage the information available to the citizen population about cannabis, but it significantly skewed the information available to lawmakers at the state and federal level. The circulated misinformation had the potential to affect voting decisions at both the populational and legislative levels, representing an enormous barrier against substantive, honest, and correct lawmaking.
The DEA’s inaccurate statements about cannabis’s efficacy and risks were included in materials such as, “The Dangers and Consequences of Marijuana Abuse” and “Drugs of Abuse.” These included assertions about cannabis that have been long refuted by the majority of scientific research.
ASA stated that the DEA’s 25 IQA violations were not only outside of scientific consensus regarding cannabis research, but that the published information contradicted the DEA’s own official statements from August 2016 that cannabis was 1) not a gateway drug, 2) did not have long-lasting effects on brain development, and 3) did not lead to psychosis or lung cancer.
The contradiction was in direct violation of the IQA’s standards for dissemination of information to the public. ASA requested that the DEA revise the statements published in both its web and print materials in order to provide more appropriate tools for the public and for politicians to make informed decisions about public health.
ASA argued that the DEA’s continued refusal to provide current and fact-based information played a key role in denying patients across the country critical access to medical cannabis treatments.
Far-Reaching Implications of DEA Misinformation
Americans for Safe Access argued that their December 2016 legal petition was especially important because of new Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s propensity for citing DEA information during his persistent opposition to medical cannabis use and usefulness.
In several highly publicized statements, Sessions referenced the DEA’s published data which declared cannabis as a gateway drug that caused permanent psychological effects.
ASA urged the DEA and the DOJ to correct its inaccurate statements, and do more to be in compliance with the OMB’s Data Quality Act because of the direct influence it could have over the highest law enforcement officials in the nation. Though they recognized and praised the DEA’s removal of some of the inaccuracies noted in their legal filing, the ASA requested that the DEA fulfill its federal duty of formal response– or to remove the remaining misinformation still in circulation.
Accurate information is vital and necessary to the public health and democracy of our nation. Biased and outdated information has no place in the debates of our policymakers nor in the voting decisions of our citizens.