Pubdate: Sat, 27 Aug 2005
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2005 The New York Times Company
Author:  John Tierney
Related: The MAPS/Craker/DEA legal hearing document register
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


When the Supreme Court ruled in June that states could not legalize 
marijuana for medical uses, Justice Stephen Breyer voted with the 
majority. But during oral arguments, he suggested an alternative way 
for patients to get it: let the federal Food and Drug Administration 
decide if marijuana should be a prescription drug.

"Medicine by regulation is better than medicine by referendum," he 
said. In theory, that sounds reasonable. But what if the officials 
doing the regulation are afflicted with a bad case of Reefer Madness?

If you doubt this possibility, you should have been at a hearing that 
began this week at the Drug Enforcement Administration's 
headquarters. Lyle Craker, a professor of plant and soil sciences at 
the University of Massachusetts, asked an administrative judge to 
overrule the agency so he could grow marijuana for F.D.A.-approved 
research projects by other scientists.

Dr. Craker is a well-regarded agronomist who's being supported by the 
American Civil Liberties Union and both of his senators, Edward 
Kennedy and John Kerry. But for four years he's been stymied by the 
D.E.A., which first stalled and then finally denied his request for a permit.

There are precedents for his re quest, because researchers already 
get supplies of other drugs - like heroin, LSD and Ecstasy - from 
independent laboratories licensed to make them. But researchers who 
want marijuana have only one legal source: a crop grown in 
Mississippi and dispensed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Scientists say they need an alternative partly because the 
government's marijuana is of such poor quality - too many seeds and 
stems - and partly because the federal officials are so loath to give 
it out for research into its medical benefits.

Discovering benefits, after all, would undermine the great 
anti-marijuana campaign that has taken hold in Washington. Marijuana 
is deemed to be such a powerful "gateway" to other drugs that it's 
become the top priority in the federal drug war, much to the 
puzzlement of many scientists, not to mention the police officers who 
see a lot of worse drugs on the streets.

People with glaucoma and AIDS have sworn by the efficacy of 
marijuana, and there have been studies by state health departments 
showing that smoking marijuana is especially good at controlling 
nausea. Scientists would like to test these effects, but they can't 
do good studies until they get good marijuana.

Critics of medical marijuana say that it's unnecessary because 
patients can obtain the benefits of its active ingredient, THC, 
through a drug that's already available, Marinol. But many patients 
say it doesn't work as well. They point to the case of the writer 
Peter McWilliams, who said smoking marijuana was the only way to 
control the nausea brought on by the mix of drugs he took for AIDS and cancer.

He was forced to switch to Marinol after a D.E.A. investigation led 
to his conviction for violating federal laws against marijuana. In 
2000, several weeks before he was to be sentenced, he was found dead 
in his bathroom. He had choked on his own vomit.

Phillip Alden, a writer living in Redwood City, Calif., told me that 
marijuana was a godsend for him in dealing with the effects of AIDS. 
He said it eased excruciating pains in his fingertips, controlled 
nausea and enabled him to avoid the wasting syndrome that afflicts 
AIDS patients who are unable to eat enough food.

But Mr. Alden said only some kinds of marijuana worked - not the weak 
variety provided by the federal government, which he smoked during a 
research study.

"It was awful stuff," he said. "They started out with a very 
low-grade plant, rolled it up with stems and seeds, and then 
freeze-dried it so that they probably ruined any of the THC crystals. 
All it did was give me headaches and bronchitis. The bronchitis got 
so bad I had to drop out of the study."

Mr. Alden was scheduled to testify at this week's hearing, but he 
told me he had to withdraw because the D.E.A. refused to give him 
legal immunity if he admitted using marijuana not from the 
government. It's a shame the judge will be making a decision without 
hearing him, but I can understand Mr. Alden's hesitancy.

D.E.A. officials have already shown they're quite capable of 
persecuting someone who uses marijuana to deal with AIDS, and they 
may well be even more eager to go after someone who encourages 
research into their least favorite drug. When it comes to marijuana 
research, the federal policy is "Just Say Know-Nothing."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake