Pubdate: Sun, 06 Apr 2014
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Page: E3
Copyright: 2014 Austin American-Statesman
Note: Letters MUST be 150 words or less
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy News Service


Proposal to Test Treating Veterans for PTSD Took 3 Years to Get

WASHINGTON - As the nation's only truly legal supplier of marijuana,
the U. S. government keeps tight control of its stash, which is grown
in a 12-acre fenced garden on the campus of the University of
Mississippi in Oxford.

 From there, part of the crop is shipped to Research Triangle
Institute in North Carolina, where it's rolled into cigarettes, all at
taxpayer expense.

Even though Congress has long banned marijuana, the operation is
legitimate. It's run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of
the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, which doles out the
pot for federally approved research projects.

While U. S. officials defend their monopoly, critics say the
government is hogging all the pot and giving it mainly to researchers
who want to find harms linked to the drug.

U. S. officials say the federal government must be the sole supplier
of legal marijuana in order to comply with a 1961 international drug-
control treaty. But they admit they've done relatively little to fund
pot research projects looking for marijuana's benefits, following
their mandate to focus on abuse and addiction.

"We've been studying marijuana since our inception. Of course, the
large majority of that research has been on the deleterious effects,
the harmful effects, on cognition, behavior and so forth," said Steven
Gust, special assistant to the director at the National Institute on
Drug Abuse, which was created in 1974.

With polls showing a majority of Americans supporting legalization,
pot backers say the government should take a more evenhanded approach.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the White House drug czar
have become favorite targets to accuse of bias, with both prohibited
by Congress from spending money to do anything to promote

Some critics hope the situation will change; federal officials
recently approved a University of Arizona proposal that will let
researchers try to determine whether smoking or vaporizing marijuana
could help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as
PTSD. The researchers got the green light to provide the equivalent of
two joints per day for 50 veterans.

The approval was a long time coming.

Suzanne Sisley, clinical assistant professor of internal medicine and
psychiatry at the University of Arizona's medical school, said the
Health and Human Services Department waited more than three years to
approve the project after it was first sanctioned by the Food and Drug
Administration. She said the extra federal review should be scrapped
and that approval by the FDA should be sufficient for a study to proceed.

"Nobody could explain it - it's indefensible," she said in an
interview. "The only thing we can assume is that it is politics
trumping science."

After the long delay, Sisley said she's excited to get started and
hopes to launch the project late this spring or early this summer,
after getting the marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
She said pressure by veterans helped get the project approved.

For critics, the process is far too slow. In the fight to sway public
opinion, the research battles have assumed a sense of urgency, with
opponents and proponents of legalization scrambling to find more
evidence to advance their positions.

For opponents, it means trying to link pot use to such things as
increased highway deaths, student dropouts and emergency hospital
admissions. That could help defeat a plan to legalize pot for
recreational use in Alaska, set for an August vote.

For supporters, it means trying to find new ways to use pot to treat
diseases. That could get voters in more states to approve medical
marijuana; 20 states and the District of Columbia already have done
so, and Florida could join the list in November.

Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy
Project, a pro-legalization group, said President Barack Obama should
end the National Institute on Drug Abuse's monopoly and remove all
other research barriers. The legalization of marijuana "is inevitable"
and more studies are needed, he said.

"That is exactly why federal law and policies shouldn't tie the hands
of scientists by favoring certain kinds of research over others,"
Riffle said.

The national institute's Gust said the federal government is open to
the idea of looking for more medical applications for marijuana and
that it's a "red herring" to say that his agency is blocking research.

"This is an untruth that's been put out there by certain groups, and
quite frankly I wonder if it's not having the perverse effect of
actually decreasing the amount of applications and interest in
research," Gust said.

National Institute on Drug Abuse officials said they gave more than
$30 million in government grants to finance 69 marijuana-related
research projects in 2012, a big jump from the 22 projects that
received less than $ 6 million in 2003. While the institute would not
provide exact figures, Gust said it has funded at least five to 10
projects examining possible medical applications.

The institute also provides marijuana for privately funded projects
approved by the Health and Human Services Department. Of the 18
research applicants who requested marijuana from 1999 to 2011, 15 got
approval, officials said.

The University of Mississippi received nearly $847,000 in 2013 to
produce and distribute the pot for the research projects, mainly
Mexican, Colombian, Turkish and Indian varieties.

The university grows 6 kilograms (a little more than 13 pounds) of
marijuana each year, or more if the demand is higher. Nine employees
are involved in the work. Among the university's tasks, it analyzes
marijuana confiscated by drug enforcement agents and sends "bulk plant
material" to North Carolina's Research Triangle Institute, just
outside of Durham at Research Triangle Park, where marijuana
cigarettes are produced and packaged.

Some of the pot is sent to a handful of Americans who won the right to
smoke the drug for medical reasons under a court settlement in 1976,
20 years before California became the first state to approve medical
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