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Suit denies pot isn’t medically helpful

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SAN FRANCISCO — Frustrated by government policy and inaction, a group of advocates for medical marijuana sued two federal health agencies on Wednesday over the assertion that smoking it has no medical benefit.

The group, Americans for Safe Access, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, challenging the government's position that marijuana "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."

In its lawsuit, the group contends that federal regulators have publicly issued "false and misleading statements" about the medical benefits of marijuana.

The suit, which named the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration, seeks a court order to retract and correct statements the group called "incorrect, dishonest and a flagrant violation of laws."

A lawyer for the medical marijuana group, Joseph Elford, said the suit was filed now because administrative avenues had been exhausted and because of mounting scientific and anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

Elford said a recent study by the Clinical Research Center at San Francisco General Hospital, which was approved by the FDA and other federal agencies, found that smoking marijuana relieved pain and certain symptoms of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

A spokeswoman for the health department said Wednesday in a telephone interview that "the agency does not comment on litigation as a general policy."

The spokeswoman, Christina Pearson, said the agency stood by its publicly stated position and pointed to an April 20, 2006, statement. In that advisory, which Pearson said was current, the federal government asserts that "there is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful."

It goes on to say that "no animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana," which is not an approved drug.