Senators back UM medical marijuana
By Mary Carey, Staff Writer, Daily Hampshire Gazette

Tuesday, October 28, 2003 -- Both U.S. senators from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, have written a letter to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration urging approval of an application by the University of Massachusetts to grow high-quality marijuana for medicinal research.

Backers of the proposal by plant and soil sciences professor Lyle Craker say support from Kennedy and Kerry, along with the recent refusal by the Supreme Court to consider penalizing doctors for recommending medicinal marijuana, put UMass in a much better position to win DEA approval than previously. UMass would be only the second legal grower of marijuana for research purposes. The University of Mississippi has supplied the National Institute on Drug Abuse with marijuana for 30 years.

In their Oct. 20 letter addressed to DEA administrator Karen Tandy, Kennedy and Kerry wrote, ''We believe that the National Institute on Drug Abuse facility at the University of Mississippi has an unjustifiable monopoly on the production of marijuana for legitimate medical and research purposes in the United States.''

According to Kennedy and Kerry, the current lack of competition ''may well result in the production of lower-quality research-grade marijuana, which in turn jeopardizes important research into the therapeutic effects of marijuana for patients undergoing chemotherapy or suffering from AIDS, glaucoma, or other diseases.''

Kerry and Kennedy also said in their letter that UMass is ''one of the nation's most distinguished research universities, and it is highly qualified to manufacture marijuana for legitimate medical and research purposes with effective controls against diversion.'' Craker first applied to the DEA in June 2001, for permission to grow, in a secure building on the Amherst campus, an initial 25 pounds of high-potency marijuana, which would be supplied to government-approved researchers. The project would receive funding from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a Florida-based nonprofit research and educational organization that seeks to develop marijuana as a prescription medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Massachusetts Congressmen John Olver, Barney Frank, James McGovern, William Delahunt and Michael Capuano, who support Craker's proposal, wrote to the DEA urging its approval in June, 2002. But then DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson responded in a July 1, 2002 letter addressed to Frank that increasing the numbers of marijuana growers could put the United States in violation of international treaties and that the University of Mississippi supply has proven adequate for 30 years.

Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association, said Monday that supporters of the University of Massachusetts proposal believe Kennedy's and Kerry's support is a crucial turning point.

''I think the letter from Kennedy and Kerry shows that there is law on the other side - the law saying we need a competitive environment - to try to get the data to see whether we can justify to the FDA that marijuana is safe and efficacious so that it should be a medication. I think the DEA loses more credibility by trying to protect the government monopoly and obstruct research,'' Doblin said.

Doblin said he has approached Gov. Mitt Romney's administration to ask for the governor's support. ''As a venture capitalist in the past, he is dubious of government monopoly and sympathetic to private industry,'' Doblin said. ''If Romney comes out and says that it's time for a plan, let science have its day, I think that will be have the final step. Then we would have bipartisan support in Massachusetts.''

Romney spokeswoman Nicole St. Peter said Monday of the Romney administration's position on the UMass proposal, ''We do not have enough information about this project to form a decision at this time.'' Mary Carey can be reached at mary.carey@att.net.