In what marijuana reform advocates are calling a parting shot from the unsympathetic Bush Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration has declined to end the unique government monopoly on growing marijuana for federally-approved research.
The DEA’s final ruling last Wednesday rejected DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner’s formal recommendation – an 88-page decision issued almost two years ago following extensive legal hearings. That recommendation had been based largely on the fact that marijuana is the only Schedule I drug that the DEA prohibits from being produced by private laboratories for scientific research; other drugs including LSD, MDMA (Ecstacy), heroin and cocaine are available to researchers from DEA-licensed private labs.
But only the National Institute on Drug Abuse can provide marijuana to scientists for studies approved by the Food and Drug Administration – a situation Bittner found obstructs appropriate research and regulatory channels: “NIDA’s system for evaluating requests for marijuana has resulted in some researchers who hold DEA registrations and requisite approval from [HHS and FDA] being unable to conduct their research because NIDA has refused to provide them with marijuana. I therefore find that the existing supply is not adequate.”
The DEA finally disagreed last week, formally rejecting University of Massachusetts, Amherst Professor Lyle Craker’s petition to cultivate research-grade marijuana, first filed way back in June 2001. In doing so, it ignored pleas from at least 47 members of Congress — including Barbara Lee, Pete Stark, George Miller, Mike Honda, Zoe Lofgren and Lynn Woolsey — and a broad range of scientific, medical and public health organizations including the Lymphoma Foundation of America, the National Association for Public Health Policy and the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation as well as several state medical and nurses’ associations.
“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. “Patients with serious illnesses deserve legitimate research that might establish medical marijuana as a fully legal, FDA-approved treatment. Today, that effort has been dealt a serious blow.”
Craker and his lawyers say the DEA’s failure to act on Bittner’s recommendation until the Bush Administration’s last weeks in office continued “the strategy of delay and pattern of unresponsiveness that has characterized the process since Professor Craker first filed his initial petition seven-and-a-half years ago,” their news release said.
“With one foot out the door, the Bush administration has once again found time to undermine scientific freedom,” said Allen Hopper, litigation director of the American Civil Liberties Union Drug Law Reform Project.