Members of Congress Ask DEA to Stop Obstructing Medical Marijuana Research

September 18, 2007

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

Washington, D.C. –  A letter signed by 45 members of the U.S. House of Representatives will be delivered today to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) demanding an end to the obstruction of scientific research aimed at developing marijuana as a legal prescription medicine.

The bipartisan letter, co-sponsored by Reps. John Olver (D-MA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), urges DEA Administrator Karen Tandy to follow the February 2007 ruling of Department of Justice-appointed administrative law judge Mary Ellen Bittner, which found that it would be “in the public interest” for the DEA to grant a license to University of Massachusetts professor Lyle Craker to cultivate research-grade marijuana to be used in Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved studies. Judge Bittner’s ruling is non-binding and DEA has no deadline to decide whether to accept or reject it.

"For the DEA, delay is victory. For patients, delay may be the difference between life and death," said Allen Hopper, Litigation Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Drug Law Reform Project, which has represented Craker since 2005. "It is encouraging to see growing political will to overcome DEA's inappropriate elevation of drug war politics over science and the public good."

Earlier this summer, DEA's handling of Craker's application was the subject of intense congressional scrutiny. During a hearing before the U.S House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) asked DEA Deputy Administrator Joseph T. Rannazzisi a series of questions about the case, expressed disapproval at DEA's delay, and insisted that the agency commit to make a decision before the end of President Bush's term.

“The DEA is ignoring the vast scientific evidence that clearly shows medicinal use of marijuana benefits patients who are extremely ill,” said Congressman Nadler today.  “When it comes to providing the best treatment options to sick Americans, we should trust doctors and medical researchers and not federal bureaucrats.”

Professor Craker submitted his initial application to DEA in June 2001. Craker plans to establish the nation’s first privately funded facility for the production of research-grade marijuana. Craker would cultivate research material for use by other scientists in clinical trials to determine whether marijuana meets FDA standards for medical safety and efficacy.

Despite strong interest, FDA trials have yet to be conducted. Since 1968, the federal government's National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has maintained a monopoly on the supply of research marijuana and uses that monopoly to obstruct legitimate, privately funded research. Judge Bittner found that NIDA has repeatedly refused to supply marijuana for FDA-approved studies that aim to develop marijuana as a prescription medicine.

In contrast, all other controlled substances, including LSD, heroin and MDMA (Ecstasy), are available to researchers from multiple private manufacturers. NIDA's marijuana monopoly persists despite the fact that federal law requires adequate competition in the production of Schedule I drugs, such as marijuana, to ensure an adequate and uninterrupted supply for legal research. DEA protects NIDA's monopoly by refusing to license other suppliers, such as Professor Craker, according to the ACLU.

"Patients, scientists, and researchers are caught in a Catch-22," said Professor Craker, who is the director of the Medicinal Plant Program in the Department of Plant, Insect and Soil Sciences at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "DEA continues to arrest patients on the basis that marijuana is not approved by FDA, while simultaneously obstructing the very research that would be required for FDA to approve marijuana as a medicine."

In addition to Congress, a broad array of organizations has also written to DEA in support of Craker's application. These organizations include the National Association for Public Health Policy, the National Lawyers Guild, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Lymphoma Foundation of America, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, and several religious denominations such as the United Methodist Church and the U.S. Presbyterian Church. In addition, Massachusetts Senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy have previously written to DEA in support of Craker's application.

Craker’s applications for regulatory approval, legal efforts, and proposed facility are sponsored by MAPS, a non-profit pharmaceutical company that plans to design, fund, and obtain government approval for the clinical trials necessary to determine whether marijuana meets FDA requirements for medical safety and efficacy. MAPS teamed with Craker after NIDA refused to supply marijuana to two of its FDA-approved protocols.

"Scientific evaluations of medical marijuana are needed now more than ever," said Rick Doblin, Ph.D., the founder and president of MAPS, whose Harvard dissertation evaluated potential regulatory mechanisms for marijuana if it gains FDA approval. "Why is DEA going to such lengths to stop Professor Craker? DEA knows that if FDA has the opportunity to evaluate marijuana, it would likely approve it for medical use."

Today’s U.S. House of Representatives’ letter can be found online at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/31861leg20070918.html

Additional background on the case can be found at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medicalmarijuanafeature/index.html and www.maps.org/mmj/DEAlawsuit.html

Statistics image