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DEA Ruling Renders Federal Approval of Medical Marijuana Impossible

by Jessica Azulay

In a move certain to prolong the suffering of many, the Drug Enforcement Administration has effectively restricted gov't-sanctioned growth of marijuana which is necessary to gain the drug’s approval as medicine.

Dec. 16, 2004 – The US Drug Enforcement Administration has declined to grant a Massachusetts University researcher permission to grow medical marijuana for federally approved research. Advocates for the legalization of the drug say the ruling has effectively "slammed the door" on efforts to win the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of marijuana as a medicine.

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Dr. Lyle Craker, who heads the Medicinal Plant Program at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, had asked the DEA of three years ago for permission to grow marijuana for distribution to researchers. Currently all marijuana used for research must come from a Mississippi farm contracted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and proponents of Craker’s proposal have said that supply from Mississippi has been inconsistent and the potency of the drug questionable.

In its letter to Craker, the DEA said it found the amount supplied to researchers by the Mississippi farm to be sufficient. It also said that it did not find that granting the application was "consistent with the public interest." The DEA additionally pointed to international regulations that supposedly prohibit the US from licensing more than one marijuana cultivation site. Finally, the agency noted its doubts that an increased amount of marijuana for research and clinical trials is necessary, given that marijuana in its smoked form "ultimately cannot be the permitted delivery system for any potential marijuana medication." In the DEA’s estimate, the Food and Drug Administration will never approve smoked marijuana, due to its potentially harmful effects and the difficulty of measuring doses in that form.

Proponents of medical marijuana decried the decision. They said that by refusing to license another, more reliable and potent marijuana source, the DEA is putting up an insurmountable roadblock against anyone attempting to go through the FDA approval process. The Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates reform to the nation’s marijuana laws, said that since the Mississippi marijuana cannot be used for prescription sale, "FDA approval of marijuana [is] effectively impossible unless an alternative source is made available, since testing would need to be done on the same product that is [to be] sold to patients." The group also accused the federal government of stonewalling studies into other delivery technologies such as vaporizers.

Advocates for medical marijuana use have been hoping the FDA will eventually approve the drug, thereby protecting from federal prosecution people who already use it to treat a variety of ailments including glaucoma, cancer, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and AIDS-related symptoms -- often with the blessing of their own state’s laws and on doctors’ orders.

"In the Supreme Court two weeks ago, Justice Breyer told two California patients that they should go to the FDA to get marijuana approved as a medicine, but now the DEA has slammed the door on that process," said Ron Kampia, director of the Marijuana Policy Project, referring to a recent case heard by the justice on whether the federal government can prosecute people who are using marijuana in accordance to their own state’s law.

"The DEA has proven that the system is rigged to make sure that marijuana will never be approved by the FDA, because the DEA can always block the research that the FDA needs," continued Kampia in a press statement. "The DEA’s decision means the only way to protect patients from arrest is through state and federal legislation, and this adds new urgency to our efforts in both Congress and the states. We expect legislators to move quickly once they understand that, for the foreseeable future, legislative action is the only way to keep cancer and AIDS patients out of jail."

Craker has the prerogative to appeal the DEA’s decision.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


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Jessica Azulay is a staff journalist.

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