Medical marijuana research should not be hampered

May 21, 2007

EDITORIAL, Honolulu Star-Bulletin

FEDERAL agencies that oppose the medical use of marijuana are in a position to hamper scientific studies by controlling the supply of marijuana to scientists, but an administrative judge had recommended that it allow a Massachusetts researcher to grow his own. The Drug Enforcement Administration should heed the advice.

Hawaii is among 11 states that have legalized the therapeutic use of cannabis by patients upon the advice of their doctors. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the federal government can prosecute anyone using marijuana for medical purposes.

More than 1,000 Hawaii residents are registered by the state to grow and use the plant.

The Food and Drug Administration last year announced that "no sound scientific studies" support marijuana's medical use. Actually, the National Academy of Sciences found in 1999 that marijuana is "moderately well suited" for treating nausea, vomiting and AIDS. Cannabis-based pain-relief drugs have been available to people with multiple sclerosis in Britain for two years.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has had a monopoly over federally approved marijuana since 1968 by contract with the University of Mississippi to grow it on a 12-acre patch and make it available for research. A recent study showed that smoking marijuana brought relief to AIDS patients, even though the Ole Miss pot used in the study was about one-fourth the potency of quality street marijuana.

Lyle Craker, a University of Massachusetts horticulturist specializing in medicinal plants, applied to the DEA six years ago for permission to grow marijuana in a climate-controlled room. The pot would be used by a small group of scientists for research into developing vaporizers to deliver marijuana smoke to patients. He sued the DEA after being denied permission.

Researchers testified in the case that the government-grown marijuana was of poor quality. Administrative Judge Mary Ellen Bittner concluded in February that its quality was "generally adequate." However, she added that "an inadequate supply" was available to researchers, that competition also was inadequate and that granting Craker's application "would be in the public interest."

The prohibition against marijuana being grown in private laboratories for scientific research is an absurd policy. Laboratories licensed by the DEA are able to gain access to LSD, heroin, cocaine and MDMA, or Ecstasy, for research.

The DEA is not obligated to follow Bittner's recommendation. Indeed, the Bush administration has sneered at any suggestion that marijuana can be of medical use. When a recent study affirmed that smoking marijuana is as effective as prescription drugs in reducing nerve pain of AIDS victims, the White House called it "a smoke screen" because it did not consider the health effects of inhaling smoke. Its motive for discouraging research is suspect.



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