HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Federal Marijuana Monopoly Challenged
Pubdate: Mon, 12 Dec 2005
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A02
Copyright: 2005 The Washington Post Company
Author: Marc Kaufman, Washington Post Staff Writer
Related: The MAPS/Craker/DEA legal hearing document register
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Researchers Want to Grow More Plants and Find More Medicinal Uses

For decades, the federal government has been the nation's only legal 
producer of marijuana for medical research. Working with growers at 
the University of Mississippi, the National Institute on Drug Abuse 
has controlled both the quality and distribution of the drug for the 
past 36 years.

But for the first time the government's monopoly on research 
marijuana is under serious legal challenge. The effort is being 
spearheaded by a group that wants to produce medicines from currently 
illegal psychedelic drugs and by a professor at the University of 
Massachusetts who has agreed to grow marijuana for it if the 
government lets him.

In a hearing due to start today before an administrative law judge at 
the Drug Enforcement Administration, professor Lyle Craker and his 
supporters will argue for a DEA license to grow the research drugs. 
It is the climax of a decades-long effort to expand research into 
marijuana and controlled drugs and of Craker's almost five-year 
effort to become a competing marijuana grower.

"Our work is focused on finding medicinal uses of plants, and 
marijuana is one with clear potential," said Craker, director of the 
medicinal plant program of the university's Department of Plant, Soil 
and Insect Sciences in Amherst, Mass., and editor of the Journal of 
Herbs, Spices and Medicinal Plants. "There's only one 
government-approved source of marijuana for scientific research in 
this country, and that just isn't adequate."

The DEA, which has to license anyone who wants to grow marijuana, disagrees.

The agency, as well as the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which 
formally runs the marijuana research program, argues that it is not 
in the public interest to have more than one source of marijuana, in 
part because it could lead to greater illicit use. What's more, they 
said in legal briefs, the Mississippi program supplies all the 
marijuana that researchers need. Agency officials declined to comment further.

In his suit against the DEA for a license to grow marijuana, Craker 
has backing from 38 members of Congress, the two senators from 
Massachusetts, numerous medical societies and even Grover Norquist, 
the president of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform.

The effort has been organized by Richard Doblin, president of the 
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and a 
longtime advocate of medical research into controlled drugs. It was 
Doblin who recruited Craker after the association concluded it would 
never get a dependable supply of government marijuana.

"Dr. Craker has no goal here except to advance scientific research 
into marijuana, and our goals are the same," said Doblin, whose group 
is also sponsoring research into other controlled drugs including 
MDMA (better known as "ecstasy") and the psychedelic mushroom psilocybin.

"By controlling who can research marijuana and how they can do it, 
the DEA has greatly limited promising research that could lead to 
[government] approved medications," Doblin said.

The problems, he said, are not limited to winning approval to buy the 
Mississippi marijuana. Doblin and other researchers contend that the 
government marijuana is low in quality and potency and could never be 
a stable source of basic ingredients if the Food and Drug 
Administration ever did approve a marijuana-based medication.

Marijuana, or cannabis, is now listed as a Schedule I drug -- with no 
medicinal use -- under the Controlled Substances Act. Its use was 
initially restricted in 1937 and eliminated from medicinal practice 
in 1942. On its Web site, the DEA lists marijuana as the most 
frequently abused illicit drug in America.

Since the 1970s, however, researchers have found potential uses for 
marijuana, or its active ingredient THC, in relieving nausea and 
vomiting associated with chemotherapy and to help with appetite loss 
in AIDS patients. A synthetic form of marijuana's active ingredient 
has been made into a prescription drug, Marinol.

Doblin said there are potentially many other medicinal uses of 
marijuana, including the treatment of multiple sclerosis and 
AIDS-related neuropathy. He also said researchers believe that if 
they can perfect a method of "vaporizing" marijuana -- allowing it to 
be inhaled rather than smoked -- it would be easier to administer as medicine.

But because of fears of illicit use, he said, the agency has 
essentially blocked the research. "I believe the DEA policy is one of 
delay, and they've succeeded in essentially blocking marijuana 
development for 30 years," Doblin said.

In its filings with Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner, the 
DEA disputes the charge that it is standing in the way of marijuana research.

It says that medical marijuana research is underway in California 
using its Mississippi supply, and that the drug maker Mallinckrodt 
Inc. has a contract with the Mississippi supplier to produce extracts 
of cannabis for its drug development program. In addition, DEA lawyer 
Brian Bayly told the law judge in August, when the first five days of 
testimony were heard, that the quality and potency of the 
government's marijuana was acceptable to the researchers his agency surveyed.

The hearing is expected to continue through the week, with a decision 
several months later. If Craker and his team prevail, however, the 
DEA is not obliged to give him a license or change its policies. And 
as a result, they plan to continue lining up political support, such 
as the Nov. 22 letter sent by Norquist to the DEA.

"The use of controlled substances for legitimate research purposes is 
well-established, and has yielded a number of miracle medicines 
widely available to patients and doctors," Norquist wrote. "This case 
should be no different. It's in the public interest to end the 
government monopoly on marijuana legal for research."