The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has rejected the decision of Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner and blocked a medical marijuana research project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst — a project considered vital if marijuana is ever to be an FDA-approved medicine. The DEA’s ruling, dated Jan. 7, was only released today.
MPP and other supporters of research reacted with outrage. “It’s no surprise that an administration that has rejected science again and again has, as one of its final acts, blocked a critical research project,” said Aaron Houston, MPP’s director of government relations. “With the new administration publicly committed to respecting scientific research and valuing data over dogma, this final act of desperation isn’t surprising, but the true victims are the millions of patients who might benefit.”
Professor Lyle Craker had applied for permission to cultivate marijuana for use in medical research. At present, marijuana for research can only be obtained through the National Institute on Drug Abuse — a government monopoly that does not exist for any other Schedule I drug. Because NIDA’s marijuana is of notoriously poor quality and has only been inconsistently available to researchers, scientists and advocates consider Dr. Craker’s project essential to the advancement of medical marijuana research.
The long and difficult process of seeking approval culminated on Feb. 12, 2007, in a ruling by Judge Bittner that Craker should be allowed to proceed. But such administrative law judge rulings are not binding on the DEA. In the nearly two years since the ruling, several small, pilot studies have shown marijuana to safely and effectively relieve nerve pain that afflicts millions suffering from HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other conditions, making more advanced research — including strains custom-tailored for various conditions, which was one of the goals of Craker and his colleagues — vital.
“Once again, science has taken a back seat to ideology in the Bush administration, with research that could benefit millions needlessly stalled,” Houston said. “They can delay progress, but they cannot stop it.”