Advocates Decry DEA Obstruction to Medical Marijuana Research - Obama Can and Should Regain an Adherence to Scientific Principles

January 12, 2009 | Kris Hermes
Only days before President Bush is to leave office, his administration has dealt yet another blow to scientific integrity by refusing to implement the recommendations of DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner and open up the production of cannabis (marijuana) for research purposes. For more than 40 years, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has maintained a monopoly on the cultivation of cannabis for Food & Drug Administration-approved scientific studies. Instead of opening up research on the medical properties of cannabis, the Bush administration has chosen to hide its head in the sand and obstruct the advancement of this important therapeutic substance. In June of 2001, University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor Lyle Craker, an experienced research botanist, applied for a license to cultivate cannabis for FDA-approved studies. After nine days of testimony from many experts and administration officials, Judge Bittner issued a set of recommendations in February 2007, concluding that the current sole-supply of cannabis by NIDA was insufficient for the level of research that cannabis deserves and that expanded research was "in the public interest." After nearly two years of delay, acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart issued a ruling today that refuses to implement Judge Bittner's recommendations. This refusal by Leonhart to adhere to her own DEA Administrative Law Judge is especially disappointing and insensitive in light of strong Congressional support for expanded research and a desire to dismantle the current monopoly on research cannabis production. In 2008, forty-five members of Congress sent a letter to then-DEA Administrator Karen Tandy, urging her to accept Judge Bittner's recommendations and calling the federal monopoly on cannabis production "unjustified." Incoming president Barack Obama has an opportunity to correct this shortsighted position that fails to recognize medical and scientific precedent. Rather than turn a cold shoulder to the reams of scientific studies pointing to the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, president-elect Obama has the opportunity to develop a sensible policy with regard to medical cannabis research. In addition, since acting-DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart has shown little capacity for understanding the need for more research into cannabis, Obama should appoint a candidate to head the DEA that can grasp the importance of advancing this important medicinal substance. To be sure, anything less will perpetuate the outdated position of the Bush Administration and deny hundreds of thousands of Americans a medicine that has been shown to be effective at treating innumerable illnesses and the side effects of toxic treatments.
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