UMass professor seeks to grow medical marijuana

May 23, 2007

Andrew Miga, Associated Press

 A University of Massachusetts-Amherst professor who has waged a nearly six-year fight to convince the government to let him grow marijuana for medical research pressed his case Wednesday outside U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration offices. Horticulturist Lyle Craker said he wants to boost research into pot's potential medicinal benefits.

"We've looked at this as just another medicinal plant that needs to be studied," Craker, who heads the school's medicinal plant program, said at a news conference Wednesday on the sidewalk outside the DEA offices.

Craker is awaiting a DEA decision on his case. DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said in an e-mail statement that it would be "inappropriate" to comment since the matter is pending.

Earlier this year, a federal administrative law judge recommended to the DEA that it grant Craker's application to grow marijuana in bulk for use by scientists in Food and Drug Administration-approved research. The nonbinding ruling said the government's supply was inadequate for medical research. It also concluded Craker's request was in the "public interest."

Craker is challenging the government's monopoly on research marijuana. A lab at the University of Mississippi is the government's only marijuana growing facility. Craker's suit claimed government-grown marijuana lacks the potency medical researchers need to make important breakthroughs.

DEA attorneys have defended the government's marijuana, saying its Mississippi growing center provides adequate quality and quantity for legitimate researchers across the country.

Craker said his case has been hurt by DEA concerns about the drug falling into the hands of students. He said he was confident security measures could be used at UMass to prevent that from happening.

"They've gotten confused between recreational use and medical use," he said of the DEA. "That's what needs to be separated out. ... When the DEA understands that, they'll be probably prepared to move forward. I'm hoping to send that message today."

Craker has won support from Massachusetts Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry as well as several other members of Congress.

Flanking Craker at the news conference was Angel Raich, a California mother of two who suffers from scoliosis, a brain tumor, chronic nausea and other ailments. On her doctor's advice, Raich eats or smokes marijuana every couple of hours to ease her pain and bolster her appetite. She has battled in court to legally take the drug.

"It's really important that the DEA stop playing games with people's lives," she said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Raich in 2005, saying medical marijuana users and their suppliers can be prosecuted for breaching federal drug laws even if they live in states such as California, where medical marijuana is legal.

Also appearing with Craker was Richard Doblin, who heads the Massachusetts-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a group that hopes to fund Craker's marijuana growing and to develop marijuana as an FDA-approved prescription medication.

Craker, who in June 2001 submitted an application as a marijuana manufacturer to the DEA, said he wasn't discouraged after pursuing his case for nearly six years.

"We knew from the beginning it was going to be a long test," he said. "I work for a state government, working at the university, and everything is slow, everything is slow. You just have to plan on that."

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