UMass Professor Seeks OK to Grow Marijuana Legally

UMass professor seeks OK to grow marijuana legally
Marcella Bombardieri
Boston Globe
August 29, 2003

For more than 30 years, University of Massachusetts professor Lyle Craker has worked in obscurity, experimenting with medicinal plants like black cohosh, goldenseal, and maca.

Now he wants to grow a far more controversial plant in his Amherst lab: the strongest research marijuana in the country.

Craker is awaiting a decision from the US Drug Enforcement Administration that could make UMass the second institution in America to grow marijuana legally. A public comment period on his application ends next month.

Currently, the University of Mississippi provides all the marijuana plants for medical researchers, who are experimenting with the drug as an antidote to pain for patients with such diseases as AIDS and cancer. Craker says he could grow a stronger, higher-quality product, and do it without government funding.

“When you have a complete monopoly you have no incentive to improve the material,” said Craker. “In science there needs to be friendly competition in order to push the frontiers. It’s the capitalist system, you could say.”

UMass officials including Chancellor John V. Lombardi have approved Craker’s quest for permission. Five members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation urged the DEA in a letter last year to allow privately funded facilities to produce marijuana (The signers were Representatives Barney Frank, John W. Olver, James P. McGovern, William D. Delahunt, and Michael E. Capuano.)

Yet Craker is fighting an uphill battle. Former DEA chief Asa Hutchinson responded to the congressmen with a letter saying that as long as the University of Mississippi ‘ continues to meet the nation’s need for research-grade marijuana while maintaining the highest level of safeguards against diversion,” an international treaty and US law “dictate that it remain the sole domestic producer.”

But Craker’s proposal would not violate the treaty or the law, say his supporters — including the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent the DEA an eight-page letter to that effect last year.

Craker said his lab is prepared to take extraordinary precautions, including hiring a 24-hour guard and installing security cameras. He said that all plant materials, as small as a single fallen leaf, would have to be carefully catalogued and destroyed under his proposal, which was first reported in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Craker would not do the research himself, but rather make the marijuana available to federally approved scientists. Researchers would pay for the plant, although Craker shied away from saying he was “selling” marijuana.

“I know that UMass is desperate for money, but I can just see the headlines,” he said, adding that the money would partly go simply to pay for the lab’s guards. “It’s going to be expensive,” said Craker, who works in the department of plant and soil sciences.

If the DEA rejects Craker’s bid after the public comment period ends Sept. 22, the professor can appeal to a federal administrative judge.

He has already received a small grant from an advocacy group called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelics Studies. The group’s president, Richard Doblin, could not be reached yesterday because he was at the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

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An article entitled "UMass professor seeks OK to grow marijuana legally" written by Marcella Bombardieri was published in the Boston Globe Note: several news stations have reported this story, including NBC San Diego, FOX-Texas, ABC and NBC-Boston, and a TV station in Jacksonville, FL.