Federal Marijuana Monopoly Challenged

December 11, 2005

Marc Kaufman, Washington Post

For decades, the federal government has been the nation's only legal producer of marijuana for medical research. Working with growers at the University of Mississippi, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has controlled both the quality and distribution of the drug for the past 36 years.

But for the first time the government's monopoly on research marijuana is under serious legal challenge. The effort is being spearheaded by a group that wants to produce medicines from currently illegal psychedelic drugs and by a professor at the University of Massachusetts who has agreed to grow marijuana for the group if the government lets him.

In a hearing due to start today before an administrative law judge at the Drug Enforcement Administration, professor Lyle Craker and his supporters will argue for a DEA license to grow the research drugs. It is the climax of a decades-long effort to expand research into marijuana and controlled drugs and of Craker's almost five-year effort to become a competing marijuana grower.

"Our work is focused on finding medicinal uses of plants, and marijuana is one with clear potential," said Craker, director of the medicinal plant program of the university's Department of Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences in Amherst, Mass., and editor of the Journal of Herbs, Spices and Medicinal Plants. "There's only one government-approved source of marijuana for scientific research in this country, and that just isn't adequate."

The DEA, which has to license anyone who wants to grow marijuana, disagrees.

The agency, as well as the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which formally runs the marijuana research program, argues that it is not in the public interest to have more than one source of marijuana, in part because it could lead to greater illicit use. What's more, they said in legal briefs, the Mississippi program supplies all the marijuana that researchers need. Agency officials declined to comment further.



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