Stop blocking marijuana research

January 06, 2005

EDITORIAL, The Oregonian

Oregonians have made clear, in elections and in public opinion polling, that they favor careful use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. They also made clear, in the 1998 Ballot Measure 67 and the 2004 Ballot Measure 33, that they are uninterested in going beyond current state law to legalize marijuana for nonmedicinal purposes.

It will be hard for medicinal marijuana to be properly evaluated and applied if legitimate researchers can't get legal supplies for human studies to assess the health effects of the drug and unless versions of the drug can be standardized for sale if recommended by doctors.

It is our strong impression that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration is conducting a rear-guard action against useful research efforts. This occurs despite two federal court actions in 2003 that, in effect, affirm that the federal Controlled Substances Act doesn't trump state medical marijuana laws or allow federal agents to revoke the licenses of doctors who legally recommend marijuana.

The delay continues also despite U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's recent advice in Ashcroft v. Raich that patients seek Food and Drug Administration approval for marijuana as a medicine. But for the FDA to approve marijuana, researchers would need to test marijuana identical to what would be sold to patients -- from the same source, the same genetic strain and grown under the same conditions.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse is the only legal source for marijuana for research, but NIDA's marijuana is available only for research, not for distribution -- leaving scientists with no way to test the same product that would be sold. An effort by the University of Massachusetts to solve this problem by establishing a facility to grow marijuana specifically for research aimed at developing it as a prescription drug was blocked by the federal DEA on Dec. 10 (www.mpp.org/pdf/DEA.pdf).

The bottleneck for legitimate researchers is that the agencies that are hostile to medicinal marijuana are the gatekeepers of its supply. Two suggestions:

Federal agencies such as the DEA should stop blocking legitimate research that is conducted with proper security.

Until the agencies stop erecting unreasonable barriers, the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts should recognize that FDA approval is not currently a viable option, so patients need to be afforded full protection of their states' laws.



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