The American Civil Liberties Union this week announced a legal challenge to the Drug Enforcement Administration's policy of obstructing private research that could lead to marijuana being approved as a prescription medicine. The ACLU filed the case on behalf of University of Massachusetts professor Lyle Craker, who wants to grow an alternative, privately funded source of research-grade marijuana. The challenge comes in advance of an expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Raich v. Ashcroft, which addresses the question of whether the federal government can enforce federal marijuana laws in states where medical marijuana is legal.
"The public has a right to know about possible health effects of marijuana and whether this plant material has any medicinal value," said Craker in an ACLU press release. "Only through unobstructed medical research can doctors and scientists determine the value of marijuana in treating human afflictions. My job is to make plant material available for research, and the refusal of the DEA to allow me to grow marijuana for medical research prevents a full investigation of the potential health benefits of the plant material."
In legal papers filed on Craker's behalf, the ACLU points out that the federal government has a policy of obstructing research that could lead to the development of marijuana as a legal prescription medicine. Through the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the federal government currently has a monopoly on supplying marijuana available for research, say ACLU officials. In contrast, all other controlled substances are provided to researchers by DEA-licensed private laboratories--including heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and LSD. Scientists who want to study the medical benefits of marijuana with the goal of developing it into an FDA-approved prescription medicine either cannot secure marijuana for their research or receive from NIDA marijuana of insufficient quality and potency. The DEA's refusal to allow professor Craker to provide an alternative, privately funded supply of research-grade marijuana obstructs scientists' ability to conduct the research necessary to develop marijuana as a legal prescription medicine, the ACLU said in legal papers.
The ACLU also said that NIDA discriminates against scientists who want to conduct research that aims to establish marijuana's efficacy and safety as an FDA-approved prescription medicine. Such research programs clash with NIDA's mission to study only the harmful effects of drugs.
A hearing on the matter before a federal administrative law judge is scheduled for later this summer. A group of nationally renowned experts are expected to testify on Craker's behalf.