Federal Government Solicits Proposals for Medical Marijuana Cultivation

August 11, 2009
Washington, D.C. -- The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) last week for the “Production, Analysis, & Distribution of Cannabis & Marijuana Cigarettes.” Although the government has issued an exclusive contract to the University of Mississippi for more than 40 years, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is allegedly seeking competitive applications to "grow, harvest, analyze, store and distribute" cannabis (marijuana) "on large and small scales. " The RFP also seeks applicants that can "extract cannabis to obtain purified phytocannabinoids," including tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC, "prepare marijuana cigarettes and related products," and "distribute marijuana, marijuana cigarettes and cannabinoids, and other related products for research and other Government programs." The recent RFP is similar to solicitations that are issued every five years by HHS. Proposals are due on or about October 9, 2009.

"The bidding process for the production of research-grade cannabis has not really been as competitive as the government would have us believe," said Caren Woodson, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a nationwide medical marijuana advocacy organization pushing for expanded research. "The 40-year monopoly on cannabis production points to government duplicity that has resulted in a stranglehold on research in this country."

This RFP process comes only 7 months after the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rejected an application by botany professor Lyle Craker from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to be an additional producer of cannabis. The rejection followed a years-long appeals process and ignored the recommendations of the DEA's own Administrative Law Judge, Mary Ellen Bittner, who issued an 87-page ruling in February of 2007, concluding that expanded medical marijuana research was "in the public interest." Judge Bittner also concluded that the quantity, quality and repeatability of the single-source supply of marijuana from the University of Mississippi was of inadequate.

In April, ASA issued a White Paper on the government's obstruction to medical marijuana research, exposing the cozy relationship between NIDA and the University of Mississippi's Marijuana Project Director Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly. The report also details the government's double standard on medical marijuana with its support of synthetically-produced pharmaceuticals while opposing the more available, but unpatentable whole-plant marijuana. The current position of HHS, which is being legally challenged by ASA in federal court, is that marijuana "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." Yet, in 2005, during testimony before Judge Bittner, NIDA Director Dr. Eric Voth testified that indeed, "there is evidence on the potential medical use of various cannabinoids (the individual components found in the cannabis plant)." The currently available synthetically-derived sources of cannabis, Marinol and Cesamet, are inferior to whole-plant marijuana according to hundreds of medical marijuana patients who have tried both.

Adding to the government's seemingly hypocritical position on medical marijuana is the requirement that RFP applicants be able to produce and distribute marijuana cigarettes to participants in the Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program. The IND program, which was started in 1978, regularly distributes medical marijuana to its four remaining patients (the program was suspended in 1991 by G.H. Bush). "How can the federal government continue to distribute marijuana to seriously ill patients and yet maintain that it has no medical value?" questions Woodson. "The federal government also chooses to overlook reams of scientific studies from inside the U.S. and throughout the world, which unquestionably illustrate the medical efficacy of marijuana."

HHS is not the only government entity that is licensing the production of medical marijuana. The State governments of New Mexico and Rhode Island, as well as local governments in California and Montana, have either implemented such programs or will do so soon. These nascent production and distribution programs are being implemented in the absence of any comprehensive plan by the federal government to provide safe access to medical marijuana for the hundreds of thousands of patients in the U.S. who would benefit from it.

Further information:
Request for Proposals on the production and distribution of medical marijuana: https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=2f734e46a74d477e37ac07798c08a3ae&tab=core&_cview=0&cck=1&au=&ck=
2007 Ruling by DEA Judge Mary Ellen Bittner: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Craker_Ruling.pdf
ASA White Paper on the federal government obstruction to medical marijuana research: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Research_Obstruction_Report.pdf

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