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WASHINGTON - The government is violating federal law by obstructing medical marijuana research, scientists contend in lawsuits seeking faster action on applications to grow the drug.
In lawsuits to be filed Wednesday, researchers assert that Washington is refusing to act on legitimate research projects and delaying studies that could lead to marijuana's use as a prescription drug.
"There is an urgent need for an alternative supply of marijuana for medical research," said Lyle Craker, director of the Medicinal Plant Program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the main force behind the lawsuits.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the Health and Human Services (news - web sites) Department, "maintains a monopoly on research marijuana. Many researchers believe that NIDA's monopoly is an obstacle to getting needed studies done on a timely basis," Craker said in a statement.
The lawsuits, which target the Drug Enforcement Administration, HHS, NIDA and the National Institutes of Health (news - web sites), are being filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Joining Craker in filing the suit are Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, and Valerie Corral, co-founder of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Santa Cruz, Calif., who uses marijuana to control epileptic seizures.
"As a patient, each day brings new struggles," she said in a statement. "Instead of providing relief for critically ill Americans, our government refuses to allow the research that would free sick and dying members of our collective from living in fear of an administration that views medical assistance as criminal activity."
The case claims an unreasonable delay in acting on a three-year-old application by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to grow marijuana for federally approved researchers.
Scientists also want the government to act on a year-old application by Chemic Laboratories in Canton, Mass., to import 10 grams of marijuana from Dutch authorities for research into a device called the Volcano Vaporizer. The device potentially offers a nonsmoking way to deliver the medicinal value of marijuana.
"Every day DEA delays the applications necessary to initiate research is another day that the patients with illnesses susceptible to treatment using marijuana must either suffer otherwise remediable pain, or risk arrest to use marijuana as medicine," said the scientists behind the suits.
DEA spokesman Ed Childress said the agency won't discuss pending lawsuits.
All marijuana for research in the United States must come from a crop grown on a federally contracted farm in Mississippi. That product has been only "inconsistently available to researchers and is infamous for its low quality," the researchers contend.