Pubdate: Tue, 13 Feb 2007
Source: Belleville News-Democrat (IL)
Copyright: 2007 Belleville News-Democrat
Author: Michael Doyle
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)


WASHINGTON - Medical researchers need more marijuana sources because 
government supplies aren't meeting scientific demand, a federal judge 
has ruled.

In an emphatic but nonbinding opinion, the Drug Enforcement 
Administration's own judge is recommending that a University of 
Massachusetts professor be allowed to grow a legal pot crop. The real 
winners could be those suffering from painful and wasting diseases, 
proponents believe.

"The existing supply of marijuana is not adequate," Administrative 
Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner ruled.

The federal government's 12-acre marijuana plot at the University of 
Mississippi provides neither the quantity nor quality scientists 
need, researchers contend. While Bittner didn't embrace those 
criticisms, she agreed that the system for producing and distributing 
research marijuana is flawed.

"Competition in the manufacture of marijuana for research purposes is 
inadequate," Bittner determined.

Bittner further concluded that there is "minimal risk of diversion" 
from a new marijuana source. Making additional supplies available, 
she stated, "would be in the public interest."

The DEA isn't required to follow Bittner's 88-page opinion, and the 
Bush administration's anti-drug stance may make it unlikely that the 
grass-growing rules will loosen. Both sides can now file further 
information before DEA administrators make their ruling.

"We could still be months away from a final decision," DEA spokesman 
Garrison Courtney said Tuesday, adding that "obviously, we're going 
to take the judge's opinion into consideration."

Still, the ruling is resonating in labs and with civil libertarians.

"(The) ruling is an important step toward allowing medical marijuana 
patients to get their medicine from a pharmacy just like everyone 
else," said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Based in the California seaside town of Santa Cruz, the ACLU's Drug 
Law Reform Project has been representing University of Massachusetts 
scientist Lyle Craker. Since 2001, Craker has been confronting 
numerous bureaucratic and legal obstacles in his request for 
permission to grow research-grade marijuana.

An agronomist with a doctorate from the University of Minnesota, 
Craker was asked to grow bulk marijuana by a small, five-member group 
called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. The 
psychedelic studies group wants to research such areas as developing 
vaporizers that can efficiently deliver pot smoke.

"This ruling is a victory for science, medicine and the public good," 
Craker said. "I hope that the DEA abides by the decision and grants 
me the opportunity to do my job unimpeded by drug war politics."

The latest research made public this week indicated that marijuana 
provided more pain relief for AIDS patients than prescription drugs 
did. The Bush administration quickly dismissed those findings as a 
"smokescreen," and it has remained hostile to Craker's research efforts.

During the trial, for instance, DEA attorneys secured an admission 
from Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies head 
Richard Doblin that he has smoked marijuana regularly since 1971.

"Can you tell us the source of this marijuana?" DEA attorney Brian 
Bayly asked Doblin, before withdrawing the question under objections.

The DEA originally claimed that it lost Craker's research 
application. Then the agency said that his photocopied follow-up 
lacked a necessary original signature. After a year, Craker tried 
again. He then had to wait another year before the DEA started 
processing the application, in which he proposed to grow about 25 
pounds of marijuana in the first year.

Craker sued after the agency rejected his application. That brought 
his case before Bittner.

She oversaw the trial, which featured witnesses such as former 
California legislator John Vasconcellos.

"People have a right to know more about what might help them in their 
suffering and pain or illness, whatever it might be," Vasconcellos 
testified, in words repeated by Bittner. "The more research, the better."

The University of Mississippi has monopolized government-grade 
marijuana since 1968. The university also contracts with North 
Carolina's Research Triangle Institute, which runs a machine that can 
roll up to 1,000 finished marijuana cigarettes in an hour.

The government-grown pot is too "harsh" and filled with stems and 
seeds, researchers testified.

"The material was of such poor quality, we did not deem it to be 
representative of medical cannabis," researcher Dr. Ethan Russo said.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman