The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has rejected a scientist's request to open what would have been the nation's second federally approved marijuana lab.
Lyle Craker, a University of Massachusetts Amherst horticulturist, applied for permission to grow pot eight years ago for researchers conducting U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved studies on the potential benefits of marijuana as medical treatment. Pot has been used to lower pressure buildup in glaucoma (a potentially blinding eye disease), to reduce nausea from cancer treatments and to prevent AIDS-related weight loss. Craker had asked for permission to grow it for research funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a California nonprofit that wants to develop marijuana into a legal prescription med.
In 2007 DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner recommended that Craker's application be granted, saying that there wasn’t enough pot available for research purposes and that there was "minimal" chance marijuana grown in the proposed lab would be used for non-research reasons. But DEA Deputy Administrator Michele Leonhart disagreed, characterizing the country's supply of research-grade pot as "adequate and uninterrupted."
Leonhart's 118-page opinion was released yesterday by Craker's attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Drug Law Reform Project
“I am saddened that the DEA is ignoring the best interests of so many seriously ill people who wish for scientific investigations that could lead to development of the marijuana plant as a prescription medicine,” Craker said in a statement. “Patients with serious illnesses deserve legitimate research that might establish medical marijuana as a fully legal, FDA-approved treatment. That effort has been dealt a serious blow.”
DEA spokesman Michael Sanders told ScientificAmerican.com that the agency wouldn’t comment on Leonhart's decision. "The document speaks for itself," he said.
Allen Hopper, the ACLU drug-reform project's litigation director, charged that the move was politically motivated and part of "a cynical attempt to maintain the Bush administration's elevation of politics over science."
The only source of government-grown weed is the University of Mississippi's Marijuana Project. Craker is among scientists who have complained that the pot grown there is hard to come by and of inconsistent chemical makeup. Steve Gust, special assistant to the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which sponsors the project, told ScientificAmerican.com last month that more marijuana is grown there than is requested by scientists and that its quality is consistent.
Image of marijuana leaf © iStockphoto/Vladimir Vladimirov