Nations sole marijuana farm focuses on limiting abuse

Nation’s sole marijuana farm focuses on limiting abuse

By Chris Joyner, USA TODAY, March 8, 2010

Originally from:

OXFORD, Miss. — It is the smell — pungent and slightly citrusy — that first greets visitors to Mahmoud ElSohly’s office on the University of Mississippi campus.

Next are pictures lining the hallways of the bright green plants ElSohly has spent the past 35 years researching as chief cultivator of the nation’s only federally sanctioned marijuana farm.

The University of Mississippi Marijuana Project provides marijuana to licensed researchers around the USA studying the drug under a contract from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

About a dozen researchers and lab assistants grow the marijuana in a fenced-in field, protected by video cameras and motion detectors. They nurture it in a “grow room,” analyze it and store it in drums in two bank-style vaults.

“It’s a complicated plant,” ElSohly says of its chemical composition and its political and cultural baggage. “If this was milk thistle or any of these other herbal drugs, it would be no problem making this available.”

Although he says he has never smoked it, ElSohly is a big marijuana fan. He is an informed believer in the medical properties of THC, the chemical in the plant that produces a psychoactive high and gives relief to people with chronic ailments such as cancer or Parkinson’s.

Ole Miss has had the federal contract since 1968. ElSohly says that experience makes it a favorite to stay the sole provider despite bids from other universities or labs. He is finalizing a renewal of the contract, which pays about $1.2 million annually.

Yet Ole Miss’ contract rankles some who see it as a monopoly.

“It’s really handicapped research,” says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance Network, which favors legalizing marijuana for medical use and eliminating criminal penalties for possession. Nadelmann says some researchers complain the Ole Miss farm produces marijuana that is low in quality and limited in variety, claims that ElSohly disputes.

Another reason Nadelmann and others question the approach at Ole Miss is ElSohly’s stance against smoking the plant.

The federal contract focuses on limiting abuse of the drug, and ElSohly, a research pharmacist, also believes smoking pot is a bad way to take the medicine. He is working on non-smoking methods to ingest the drug, ways that separate the medical benefits from the psychoactive high.

Maryland Delegate Dan Morhaim, a Democrat, has introduced a state bill to allow medical marijuana. Morhaim, a physician, said non-smokable marijuana research has value, but it is not the only answer and is not available now. “This is about compassionate care,” he says. “There is no reason to be so marijuana-phobic as we have been in this country.”

Joyner reports for The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger

This article is about marijuana research being conducted at the University of Mississippi. The report quotes the main researcher as saying that marijuana may see use in treating Parkison’s and cancer. The article is significant in that it brings to light the fact that the only federally mandated marijuana farm is under the control of the National Institute on Drug Abuse whose primary goal is to support Drug War polices rather than investigating medical uses for drugs.