Pubdate: Thu, 31 May 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Section: A
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Bookmark: (Judge Bittner)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Federal Officials Should Allow Competition in Growing the Drug for 
Needed Studies on Its Medical Use.

DISCUSSION OF medical marijuana has always been heavy on rhetoric, 
elisions and grandiose claims. What it has lacked is reliable 
research that might bring some of the discussion into line with 
reality. This is because access to the government's monopoly supply 
of research-grade marijuana is so restricted that the necessary 
research is effectively impossible. Now the Drug Enforcement 
Administration's chief administrative law judge is recommending that 
the federal drug police allow competition in growing marijuana for 
research purposes. The administration should follow her recommendation.

At issue is the supply of research-grade marijuana produced at the 
University of Mississippi and overseen by the National Institute on 
Drug Abuse. This supply is supposed to be made available to 
DEA-registered researchers who have undergone a rigorous review and 
approval process by the U.S. Public Health Service. However, both 
medical marijuana advocates and scientists say the institute 
routinely refuses to make its supply available even to licensed 
researchers for properly authorized studies. There are at least two 
FDA-approved studies that cannot go forward because no research 
samples are available.

This leaves researchers -- and the 12 states that have so far 
approved marijuana for medical purposes -- in a Catch-22: Drug 
warriors object that there is no research demonstrating marijuana's 
efficacy while preventing such research from being done. Since 2001, 
a scientist with the University of Massachusetts Amherst has vainly 
petitioned the DEA for permission to produce, under conditions that 
even the DEA acknowledges present little risk of diversion for 
illicit use, another supply of research-grade marijuana.

In a recent ruling, Judge Mary Ellen Bittner agreed that that request 
would be in the public interest. Given its narrow confines, Bittner's 
recommendation makes sense. It has no bearing on the DEA's licensing 
of researchers, which would remain in place, nor would it remove the 
burden of proof on scientists who want access to research-grade 
marijuana. It would merely prevent situations in which, the judge 
noted, legitimate researchers who have completed all due diligence 
are still refused access to research samples.

The benefits of medical marijuana may turn out to be less impressive 
than advocates hope. All the more reason that research should be 
allowed to go forward, so that we can base the discussion on evidence 
rather than on the two sides' vehement -- but factually unsupported -- claims. 
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