Ole Miss may get competition in growing legal marijuana
from the Daily Journal
By Errol Castens
from the Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – A judicial opinion may end the University of Mississippi’s monopoly on growing marijuana for researchers in the United States.
A field at the Oxford campus is the United States’ only legal source of cannabis. Since 1968, the university has had contracts with the National Institute for Drug Abuse – competitively bid and renewed every three to five years – to grow the plant and distribute it as NIDA directs to researchers nationwide.
Dr. Lyle Craker, a horticulturist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst petitioned the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to become a second grower of marijuana. He contends DEA’s enforcement mission prejudices the agency against approving research projects that could show promise.
“Science is based on replication,” Craker told the Daily Journal. “I always worry when the agency that is charged with keeping people from using a substance is the one that controls all the research on it.”
Craker said some researchers have also expressed needs for varieties of marijuana not grown at Ole Miss – a more potent variety often found in The Netherlands, for example.
Administrative Judge Mary Ellen Bittner of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued an opinion last week that Craker should be allowed to grow the experimental drug.
The ruling is only an initial step toward a possible second grower. Higher DEA officials could overrule Bittner’s opinion. The agency’s stated position is that “marijuana has no medical value that can’t be met more effectively by legal drugs.” Some researchers, however, say the drug and its derivatives show promise, especially to relieve pain and nausea in patients with cancer or AIDS.
If Craker’s petition is ultimately successful, his project will be funded by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which for two decades has promoted medical research of marijuana, MDMA (“ecstasy”) and psychedelic drugs.
While MAPS officially emphasizes academic efforts, some critics contend its leaders promote generalized drug legalization. The group’s president, Rick Doblin, has served on the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which advocates removal of all penalties for personal marijuana use.
Research professor Mahmoud ElSohly oversees the marijuana project as part of the National Center for Natural Products Research at Ole Miss and is a prominent marijuana researcher in his own right. Among his accomplishments in the field is a patent for a marijuana rectal suppository that eliminates the risks of smoking. The technology also lessens the psychological effects common to smoking marijuana and reduces the risk of abusing the drug.
ElSohly could not be reached Friday for comment on Bittner’s ruling.
Contact Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens by email at email@example.com
this article originally appeared originally in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, 2/19/2007 section A , page 1