By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Armed with a legal decision in their favor, scientists and advocates of medical research on marijuana pressed the Drug Enforcement Administration yesterday to allow them to grow their own, saying that pot supplied by the government is too hard to get and that its poor quality limits their research.
The proponents said a DEA administrative law judge's recent ruling that it would be in "the public interest" to have additional marijuana grown -- and to break the government's monopoly on growing it -- had put them closer to their goal than ever before.
"The DEA has an opportunity here to live up to its rhetoric, which has been that marijuana advocates should work on conducting research rather than filing lawsuits," said Richard Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which has fought for years for access to government-controlled supplies to test possible medical uses of marijuana.
"It's become more and more obvious that the DEA has been obstructing potentially beneficial medical research, and now is the time for them to change," he said.
The agency has opposed petitions that would end the government's marijuana monopoly, saying that the current system works well and that allowing other growers could lead to more diversion to illicit use. All the marijuana produced for research is grown at the University of Mississippi and distributed through the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
But a petition filed in 2001 by University of Massachusetts agronomy professor Lyle E. Craker seeking to grow marijuana in his greenhouses has worked its way through the DEA appeal process and resulted in a ruling against the agency earlier this year.
The decision by DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner concluding that Craker should be allowed to grow marijuana for Doblin's group to use in its research became final last week.
Craker, who has studied medicinal plants for years, joined several other medical marijuana advocates at DEA headquarters yesterday to highlight the issue. "Working with medical marijuana seems so similar to the work we're doing with other medicinal plants that I've never understood the DEA's big problem with it," said Craker, whose facilities have been examined by DEA agents to determine if they are sufficiently secure.
Bittner's ruling was strongly supportive of Craker's petition but carries limited regulatory weight: The final decision on the government's marijuana monopoly will be made by the deputy administrator of the DEA, and the agency has already taken strong exception to Bittner's conclusions.
DEA spokesman Garrison K. Courtney said yesterday that "the matter is currently pending before the DEA, and it would be inappropriate for DEA to comment at this time."
Doblin, who contacted Craker about growing medical marijuana after he was turned down by government officials, said the public is losing confidence in the DEA's oversight of the issue. He said 12 states have legalized medical marijuana and others are likely to follow soon.
Doblin said that in addition to studying the potential benefits of smoked marijuana for pain relief and to control nausea in cancer patients and some symptoms of multiple sclerosis, his group wants to test vaporized marijuana. Inhaling marijuana vapors could reduce some of the potential risks associated with smoking it.