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Science, Not Politics, Should Govern Medical Research, Says ACLU in Challenge to DEA's Marijuana Policy April 25, 2005 aclu.org
WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today announced a legal challenge to the Drug Enforcement Administration's policy of obstructing private research that could lead to marijuana being approved as a prescription medicine.
The ACLU filed the case Friday on behalf of University of Massachusetts Professor Lyle Craker, Ph.D., who wants to grow an alternative, privately funded source of research-grade marijuana. The challenge comes in advance of an expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Raich v. Ashcroft, which addresses the question of whether the federal government can enforce federal marijuana laws in states where medical marijuana is legal.
"The public has a right to know about possible health effects of marijuana and whether this plant material has any medicinal value," said Professor Craker. "Only through unobstructed medical research can doctors and scientists determine the value of marijuana in treating human afflictions. My job is to make plant material available for research, and the refusal of the DEA to allow me grow marijuana for medical research prevents a full investigation of the potential health benefits of the plant material."
In oral arguments last November in the Raich case, Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that patients ask the Food and Drug Administration to reclassify marijuana for medical use as "the obvious way to get what they want," adding, "Medicine by regulation is better than medicine by referendum."
But in legal papers filed on Professor Craker's behalf, the ACLU points out that the federal government has a policy of obstructing research that could lead to the development of marijuana as a legal prescription medicine.
"Doctors and patients would like to take Justice Breyer up on his proposal during the oral arguments in Raich to develop marijuana as a medicine through the FDA approval process," said Alan Hopper, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project. "Justice Breyer calls for 'medicine by regulation,' but the government's idea of 'regulation' is to obstruct research."
Through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the federal government currently has a monopoly on supplying marijuana available for research, Hopper noted. In contrast, all other controlled substances are provided to researchers by DEA-licensed private laboratories - including heroin, cocaine, MDMA (Ecstasy), and LSD. Scientists who want to study the medical benefits of marijuana with the goal of developing it into an FDA-approved prescription medicine either cannot secure marijuana for their research or receive from NIDA marijuana of insufficient quality and potency.
The DEA's refusal to allow Professor Craker to provide an alternative, privately funded supply of research-grade marijuana obstructs scientists' ability to conduct the research necessary to develop marijuana as a legal prescription medicine, the ACLU said in legal papers.
"We are frustrated with the DEA's red tape and the federal government's heavy-handed policies that stifle our research," said Rick Doblin, Ph.D., president of the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which wants to privately fund Professor Craker's cultivation site and the development of marijuana into a legal medicine. "Drug war politics should not obstruct our pharmaceutical development process, especially when it comes to researching drugs with the potential to reduce chronic suffering and reduce the negative side effects of life-saving medicines."
The ACLU also said that NIDA discriminates against scientists who want to conduct research that aims to establish marijuana's efficacy and safety as an FDA-approved prescription medicine. Such research programs clash with NIDA's mission to study only the harmful effects of drugs.
Allowing Professor Craker to cultivate an alternative source of marijuana for research is in the public interest and the DEA's denial of his application is driven by the politics of the "war on drugs," the ACLU said.
A hearing on the matter before a federal administrative law judge is scheduled for later this summer. A group of nationally renowned experts are expected to testify on Professor Craker's behalf.