Pot Privatization


This week a DEA administrative law judge began hearings on an application to establish a private, independent source of marijuana for research purposes. Currently the only legal source in the U.S. is the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is notorious for being stingy with its stash, which frankly isn't of such great quality anyway. It's pretty clear that NIDA's decisions about which researchers should be allowed access to the government's pot are colored by nonscientific considerations, such as the desire to provide support for the war on drugs and to prevent cannabis from being approved as a prescription drug.

As if to prove the need to break the government's marijuana monopoly, NIDA announced just a few days before the DEA hearings that it would not supply marijuana for a study of vaporizers, which heat marijuana to release THC and other therapeutic cannabinoids instead of burning it, thereby avoiding potentially dangerous combustion products. California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer, whose organization is cosponsoring the study with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, had this to say:

Once again, the government has displayed its bad faith by creating a Catch-22 for medical marijuana. First, it claimed that marijuana couldn't be used as a medicine because there weren't sufficient FDA studies of safety and efficacy. Then it refused to provide marijuana to conduct the studies. Next it contended that marijuana was inappropriate for FDA approval in the first place due to the dangers of smoking. Now it is blocking the very studies called for by the IOM to develop non-smoked alternatives to smoking.

The DEA hearings are scheduled to resume on September 26, and it's not inconceivable that the judge, Mary Ellen Bittner, will rule in favor of Lyle Craker, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst plant scientist who is seeking permission to grow cannabis. As Gieringer points out, Bittner's predecessor, the late Francis Young, concluded in 1988 that the DEA ought to reclassify marijuana to make it legally available as a medicine, calling it "one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man." Young was overruled by the head of the DEA.