DEA stymies science

February 20, 2007

EDITORIAL, St. Petersburg Times

Disingenuousness is a specialty of the Drug Enforcement Administration when it comes to the issue of medical marijuana.

The federal government likes to claim that there is little scientific proof that smoking marijuana is therapeutic and relieves patient suffering. Yet much of the research that legitimate academic and medical scientists have tried to conduct to confirm the anecdotal evidence of marijuana's benefits has been stymied through tight federal supplies of legal marijuana available for testing purposes.

Former DEA Administrator Robert Bonner once told supporters of medical marijuana that they would "serve society better by promoting or sponsoring more legitimate scientific research" rather than using the political process to make it legal. Of course, Bonner knew at the time that it was his agency that had helped block that research.

Since 1968, all federally approved scientists have had to get their marijuana from the University of Mississippi, a source that researchers have complained is inadequate in quantity and quality. In 2001, Lyle Craker, a University of Massachusetts professor of plant biology, sought approval to cultivate marijuana for medical study. The agency turned him down, but a DEA administrative law judge ruled this month that it "would be in the public interest" to allow Craker to grow the plants.

The 87-page ruling followed a nine-day hearing in which researchers recounted how the federal government rejected their requests for marijuana in FDA-approved research. Administrative law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner found that "an inadequate supply" of marijuana is available for research purposes. Her ruling is nonbinding. But the DEA should follow its sensible dictates and allow added licensed growers to increase supplies.

Private laboratories have been allowed to produce controlled substances such as LSD, "Ecstasy," heroin and cocaine for research purposes. Only marijuana has been limited to a single supplier. It also happens to be the drug most likely to prove benefits for patients suffering from a host of ailments. Twelve states have approved access to medical marijuana for patients who have a doctor's recommendation. Yet, even in those states the DEA continues to treat its use as criminal.

For too long federal policy toward marijuana has been grounded in politics rather than science. By keeping such a tight rein on supplies, it almost appears as though the DEA is afraid of what medical science will discover when marijuana is finally put to the test.

 



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