Marijuana Monopoly Maintained


Yesterday, with a week to go in the Bush administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration officially rejected an application to establish an alternative source of marijuana for medical research, a role currently monopolized by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The application was filed seven years ago by University of Massachusetts at Amherst plant scientist Lyle Craker and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is trying to facilitate research aimed at making marijuana an FDA-approved medicine. In turning Craker down, the DEA rejected a 2007 recommendation by DEA Adminstrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner, who said allowing competition with NIDA would be in the public interest. Bittner noted that the DEA's treatment of marijuana is anomalous, since every other Schedule I drug can be produced by government-licensed independent laboratories. The need to get marijuana from NIDA has prevented some researchers from performing studies even after they were approved by the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Allen Hopper, litigation director at the ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project, which supported the Craker/MAPS initiative, had this to say:

With one foot out the door, the Bush administration has once again found time to undermine scientific freedom. In stubbornly retaining the unique government monopoly over the supply of research marijuana over the objections of DEA's own administrative law judge, the Bush administration has effectively blocked the proper regulatory channels that would allow the drug to become a wholly legitimate prescription medication.

Drug warriors insist that medical marijuana advocates jump through the usual regulatory hoops to get cannabis approved as a medicine. At the same time, they do whatever they can to make that impossible. Removing these senseless obstacles to research is just the sort of moderate reform that Barack Obama—who has promised to call off the DEA's medical marijuana raids and has said doctors should be allowed to prescribe marijuana if research confirms its safety and efficacy—should be able to get behind.

I discussed Craker's application in 2003 and noted Bittner's ruling in 2007.