ACLU Calls On DEA To Allow UMass Professor To Grow Marijuana For Research Purposes

March 8, 2011 5:43 pm

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union is calling on the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to license a University of Massachusetts professor to grow marijuana for scientific studies that would seek to determine the drug’s medical benefits.

In a brief filed yesterday with the DEA, the ACLU called on DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart to reconsider her previous refusal to grant a license to Dr. Lyle E. Craker, professor of plant, soil and insect sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The ACLU argued that allowing Craker to grow marijuana for research purposes would advance scientific and medical knowledge about a drug that appears to be providing relief to thousands of patients across the country despite the federal government’s classification of it as a substance that has “no currently accepted medical use.”

“The government claims that marijuana offers no medical benefit to patients, and yet the government is simultaneously cutting off access to research material for scientific studies that seek to determine what medical benefit marijuana might have,” the ACLU’s brief reads. “The result is that the federal government remains willfully blind to the possibility of scientific results that do not match its political preconceptions.”

The importance of conducting research into the possible medical benefits of marijuana is more important today than ever before, as 15 states and Washington, D.C. have decriminalized the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes. Despite a sea change in the public’s perception of marijuana’s medical value, the federal government refuses to put its anti-medical marijuana policy to the test of science.

This ongoing refusal runs counter to an explicit directive issued by President Obama during his first week in office that the nation must move away from an era in which “[r]igid ideology has overruled sound science.” In a March 2009 memo issued to the heads of all of the federal government’s executive departments and agencies concerning “scientific integrity,” President Obama said, “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health…The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions…”

“The current system presents the archetypal catch-22,” said Scott Michelman, staff attorney with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project. “Marijuana cannot be made available as a prescription medicine because the government has not approved its medical use. But the government continues to block the very research necessary to determine, on the basis of scientific inquiry into safety and efficacy, whether marijuana should be available to patients. It’s heads-I-win, tails-you-lose logic.”

In June 2001, Craker applied for DEA registration in order to provide a new source of marijuana for privately-funded, government-licensed researchers seeking to study marijuana’s potential medical uses through the Food and Drug Administration drug development process in order to make it available as a prescription medicine. After extensive legal hearings involving numerous witnesses, DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner ruled in February 2007 that granting a license to Craker would be in the public interest, finding, among other things, that there is currently an inadequate supply of marijuana available for research purposes. In January 2009, Leonhart, then the deputy administrator of the DEA, rejected Bittner’s finding and denied the application. The brief filed by the ACLU yesterday seeks a reconsideration of that decision.

A copy of the ACLU’s brief is available online at:

Additional information about the ACLU’s work to reform marijuana laws is available online at:

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