In a pair of lawsuits filed Wednesday, researchers accused the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the US Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of violating federal law in blocking research on medical marijuana. They were joined as plaintiffs in the cases by Valerie Corral, cofounder of the Wo/Men/s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (http://www.wamm.org) in Santa Cruz, California, a medical marijuana patient.
The lawsuits stem from the federal government's refusal to act on one application for a research facility for medical marijuana that has been pending for three years and to allow researchers seeking to study vaporization to obtain marijuana for their research. Dr. Lyle Craker, director of the Medicinal Plant Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, filed an application with DEA to approve a facility that would produce marijuana for US Food and Drug Administration-approved research. Despite the support of home-state Sens. John Kerry (D) and Edward Kennedy (D), DEA has not responded.
The DEA's inaction violates the federal Administrative Procedures Act, charged the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (http://www.maps.org), which would sponsor the facility.
"We first filed our application with the DEA on June 25, 2001," Craker explained. "After three years of waiting and repeated delays, we still don't have an answer. There is an urgent need for an alternative supply of marijuana for medical research," he said. "Independent sources are allowed to produce other Schedule I drugs -- including MDMA (ecstasy) -- for research, but NIDA maintains a monopoly on research marijuana. Many researchers believe that NIDA's monopoly is an obstacle to getting needed studies done on a timely basis."
NIDA has refused to supply marijuana for at least two FDA-approved research studies, said the lawsuit against the DEA. Thus, the naming of NIDA as a respondent.
MAPS also charges the DEA with blocking efforts to obtain 10 grams of marijuana for a study of vaporizer technology, which could reduce or eliminate smoking-related hazards of marijuana use. MAPS sought to import 10 grams from the Dutch Office of Medical Cannabis on June 24, 2003, but the DEA has refused to act. NIDA has also refused to supply material from its Mississippi pot farm.
"We should welcome, rather than feel threatened by, scientific research into the medical uses of marijuana," said Dr. Barbara Roberts, former senior policy analyst and acting deputy director for demand reduction in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, who left in September 2003 after serving for 10 years. "DEA licensing of the UMass Amherst facility, importation, and timely reviews by HHS of protocols are solutions, not problems."
"This litigation is necessary because of the federal government's obstructionism regarding medical marijuana research," said Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, which, along with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, has supported this legal effort. "The government regularly claims that if marijuana were really medicine, it would already have been approved by the FDA, and that more research is needed, yet they have not only failed to support medical research, they've actively obstructed it."