ACLU Joins Suit Alleging Feds Obstruct Medicinal Cannabis Research

Washington, DC: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has joined a legal challenge to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) alleging that the agency “obstruct[s] private research that could lead to marijuana being approved as a prescription medicine.”

The ACLU filed the case on behalf of Lyle Craker, director of the UMass (University of Massachusetts)-Amherst Medicinal Plant Program, who requested federal permission in 2001 to provide scientists with an alternative, independent source of medical-grade cannabis for FDA-approved research. Presently, all federally approved research on marijuana must utilize cannabis grown and supplied by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). However, in recent years a growing number of US scientists have complained that the low quality of NIDA-grown marijuana is insufficient for use in clinical trials evaluating cannabis’ therapeutic potential. NIDA has also refused to provide cannabis for certain FDA-approved protocols, including research on cannabis vaporization.

The DEA rejected Craker’s application in December 2004, stating that the establishment of a cannabis production facility “would not be consistent with public interest” because marijuana is “the most heavily abused of all Schedule I controlled substances,” and that NIDA’s crop was of “sufficient quality” to meet researchers’ present needs. The agency further noted that it discouraged research investigating the medical utility of smoked cannabis, stating, “Smoked marijuana … ultimately cannot be the permitted delivery system for any potential marijuana medication due to the deleterious effects and the difficulty monitoring the efficaciousness of smoked marijuana.”

The ACLU’s suit states that the federal government has a monopoly on supplying cannabis for research purposes, while all other controlled substances – including heroin, cocaine, MDMA (Ecstasy), and LSD – are purchased by scientists or sponsors from DEA-licensed private laboratories. The suit further charges that NIDA-grown cannabis is of insufficient quality and potency, and that the DEA’s denial of the UMass protocol to provide an alternative source of research-grade cannabis obstructs scientists ability to conduct the research necessary to develop marijuana as a legal prescription medicine.

“While NIDA is legally allowed to provide marijuana for research, it is not able to provide marijuana on a prescription basis,” says Rick Doblin, NORML board member and Executive Director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which seeks to fund the UMass project. “This creates a situation whereby sponsors of research on medicinal cannabis are forced to conduct clinical trails with a product that they cannot be assured would be available for prescription use, potentially invalidating their research.”

A hearing on the matter before a federal administrative law judge is scheduled for later this summer, the ACLU stated in a press release.

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500 or MAPS Executive Director Rick Doblin at (617) 484-8711.