As Major Medical Marijuana Vote Nears, Congressional Scrutiny of DEA Reaches Fever Pitch
Proposed Amendment Would Hold DEA to Account for Obstruction of Medical Marijuana Research
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote today on an amendment that would prohibit the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from raiding and arresting medical marijuana patients and providers in states that have made medical marijuana legal under state law. The “Hinchey Amendment,” offered by U.S. House of Representatives member Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) during consideration of the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, would prevent the U.S. Department of Justice from spending funds to interfere with medical marijuana in any state that has authorized medical marijuana use.
The Hinchey vote comes at a time when Congress has focused unprecedented scrutiny on DEA’s continued obstruction of medical marijuana research. Two months ago, a U.S. Department of Justice-appointed administrative law judge, Mary Ellen Bittner, recommended that DEA grant a license to University of Massachusetts professor Lyle Craker permitting cultivation of research-grade marijuana to be used in Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved studies that aim to develop marijuana as a legal, prescription medicine. Despite this recommendation, DEA has yet to act on professor Craker’s nearly six-year-old application.
“DEA insists that it can and will arrest medical marijuana patients while at the same time blocking the very scientific research needed to firmly and fairly settle this debate,” said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Professor Craker in his lawsuit currently appealing his denied application to grow medical marijuana at the University of Massachusetts for medical reseach. “It is because of DEA’s placement of politics over science that a growing number of states have opted out of federal prohibition and authorized medical marijuana use.”
At present, the only facility licensed by DEA to cultivate research marijuana is the University of Mississippi, and this supply is strictly controlled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). In contrast, all other controlled substances, including LSD, heroin and MDMA (Ecstasy), are available to researchers from multiple private manufacturers. Judge Bittner found that NIDA has repeatedly refused to supply marijuana for FDA-approved studies that aim to develop marijuana as a prescription medicine. Professor Craker’s application, if granted, would break the unique monopoly on research marijuana and allow for unobstructed, FDA-approved studies, paving the way for marijuana’s development as a fully legal medicine.
DEA’s failure to act on Professor Craker’s application was the subject of congressional inquiry during a recent hearing before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) asked DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator Joseph T. Rannazzisi an extended series of questions on the matter, criticized DEA for delaying a decision on the application, and demanded the agency commit to make a decision before the end of 2008.
“DEA has created the ultimate Catch-22,” added Hopper. “Opponents of the ‘Hinchey Amendment’ have pointed to the fact that medical marijuana has not yet been approved by the FDA, and yet it is now clear that DEA is actually obstructing the FDA review process while retaining the power to attack medical marijuana patients based on the fact that marijuana has not been approved by the FDA.”
There are currently 12 states with effective medical marijuana laws that allow the use of marijuana by patients with a physician’s recommendation. New Mexico’s legislature passed such legislation earlier this year, and Rhode Island’s governor vetoed legislation that was subsequently over turned by the state legislature making its medical marijuana law permanent
Medical marijuana patient Valerie Corral’s written congressional testimony, which contains further details on DEA obstruction, is available at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/30495leg20070712.html. Corral co-founded the nation’s longest running medical marijuana hospice, the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), which was raided by DEA in 2002.
The full congressional hearing transcript can be found at: www.maps.org/mmj/dealawsuit_congressional_hearing.pdf
Additional background on the federal obstruction of medical marijuana research can be found at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medicalmarijuanafeature/index.html
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