Ending the NIDA monopoly on cannabis research

Originally appeared at: http://www.westcoastleaf.com/?p=2482 In recent months, MAPS (Multidisciplinary Assn. on Psychedelic Studies) has increased its efforts to break the government monopoly over the supply of marijuana for FDA-regulated studies so as to begin to develop cannabis into a prescription medicine. It is seeking to secure a DEA permit for UMass Amherst to cultivate a supply under contract to MAPS. Without breaking the monopoly over the legal supply, sponsors of research will not dedicate their scarce resources, because NIDA can arbitrarily delay or prevent FDA-approved studies from taking place. Furthermore, should studies be successful, the only source for prescription use would be the monopoly provider, which has major conflicts of interest and could charge whatever it wanted. Fortunately, MAPS has the recommendation of DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner in hand. On Feb. 12, 2007, Bittner stated that it would be in the public interest to grant a DEA license to Dr. Lyle Craker to cultivate marijuana at UMass Amherst under contract to MAPS. After almost two years of delay, this recommendation was rejected by Acting DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart, six days before President Obama was inaugurated. Craker’s lawyers hope to persuade Leonhart to reverse her decision. If this is unsuccessful, MAPS will go to court to sue the DEA for unreasonable delay if it continues to ignore a pending motion to reconsider. Should DEA reject the motion, MAPS can sue in the federal Court of Appeals. In recent months MAPS reached out to over 300 different organizations in the medical community. Despite private expressions of support, the current political climate has made most of them apprehensive about taking a formal position on this issue. Meanwhile, a MAPS public education campaign has gotten over a dozen letters to the editor published throughout the country, which has brought greater awareness to this issue. This campaign culminated Nov. 17 at Leonhart’s confirmation before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Although she was critically questioned by both Senators Kohl and Whitehouse, the hearing resulted in her confirmation as DEA administrator without any commitment on her part to stop blocking scientific research on the risks and benefits of medical marijuana. In its effort to obtain a license for Craker, MAPS hired the Raben Group, a lobbying firm that is exploring the delicate political situation in the Dept. of Justice and DEA to see if a different strategy might help obtain the license. Our inability to move marijuana through the FDA drug-development process lends urgency to the need for passage of state medical marijuana laws. An update on the efforts by MAPS to break the NIDA monopoly on cannabis research.