Just days after November’s Presidential election I outlined various ways that President-Elect Obama could use the power of the executive branch to shape U.S. marijuana policy. One of my top suggestions was:
As president, Obama can also support scientific, clinical research into the medical properties of cannabis by encouraging the DEA to abide by the February 2007 ruling of the agency’s own administrative law judge, which found that it would be “in the public interest” to allow private entities to grow medical-grade cannabis for FDA-approved trials.
Thanks to a parting shot by outgoing DEA Deputy Administrator Michele Leonhart, the new administration may never get that opportunity.
On Wednesday, January 7th, Ms. Leonhart published a 118-page decision setting aside DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner’s 2007 ruling. The DEA’s decision constitutes a formal rejection of University of Massachusetts at Amherst Professor Lyle Craker’s petition, filed initially June 24, 2001, to cultivate research-grade marijuana for use by scientists in FDA-approved studies aimed at developing the drug as a legal, prescription medication.
To those not wholly familiar with this case and Judge Bittner’s ruling, here’s how I initially reported on it:
[Judge Bittner’s] ruling affirms that the DEA in 2004 improperly rejected an application from the University of Massachusetts (UMass) at Amherst to manufacture cannabis for FDA-approved research.
Bittner opined: “I conclude that granting Respondent’s application would not be inconsistent with the Single Convention, that there would be minimal risk of diversion of marijuana resulting from Respondent’s registration, that there is currently an inadequate supply of marijuana available for research purposes, that competition in the provision of marijuana for such purposes is inadequate, and that Respondent has complied with applicable laws and has never been convicted of any violation of any law pertaining to controlled substances. I therefore find that Respondent’s registration to cultivate marijuana would be in the public interest.” (emphasis mine)
… Because Judge Bittner’s 2007 ruling is non-binding, the DEA has no deadline to act on it.
Under current policy, all federally approved research on marijuana must utilize cannabis supplied by and grown under contract with the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). By contrast, other controlled substances – including LSD, heroin, and MDMA (Ecstasy) – are available to researchers from multiple private manufacturers.
In 2004, the agency’s director, Nora Volkow, stated that it is “not NIDA’s mission to study the medical uses of marijuana.”
In her rejection of Judge Bittner’s ruling, Deputy Administrator Leonhart makes it clear once again that politics — not science — continue to govern America’s policies toward the research and use of medicinal cannabis.
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