Drug Law

Federal Monopoly Obstructs Medical Marijuana Research

| by ASA

Report: Federal Monopoly Obstructs Medical Marijuana Conflict of interest by University of Mississippi professor exposed

WASHINGTON --- Medical marijuana advocates issued a report today aimed at drawing attention to the federal government's monopoly on the production of marijuana for medical research. The 14-page report, entitled "Obstruction of Medical Cannabis Research in the U.S.," highlights the federal effort to impede therapeutic research on marijuana and exposes a conflict of interest for University of Mississippi professor Mahmoud ElSohly, who holds an exclusive cultivation license issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the national medical marijuana advocacy group that issued the report, draws attention to the ways in which the federal monopoly impedes meaningful research and points to the need for a new policy that can be implemented under the Obama Administration. "In the United States, research is stalled," said Caren Woodson, ASA's Government Affairs Director. "And, in some cases, research is blocked by a complicated federal approval process, which restricts access to research-grade marijuana."

Specifically, the report emphasizes the way in which government agencies -- namely the DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) -- selectively delay the process by which researchers obtain marijuana for FDA-approved studies. The report also highlights a federal "double standard" on medical marijuana illustrated by testimony from public officials who concede to marijuana's therapeutic efficacy as long as it is produced in pill.

The report also emphasizes a 2007 ruling by the DEA's own Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner that "the existing supply of marijuana [for research] is not adequate" and that an expansion of such research is "in the public interest." Judge Bittner's recommendations were in response to an application by University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor Lyle Craker to be another cultivator of marijuana for FDA-approved studies. The application was denied by the DEA in the final weeks of the Bush Administration and is currently being appealed. In March 2009, the Los Angeles Times editorialized that, "The attorney general (Holder) should heed calls to end the DEA's obstruction of serious research into the medicinal value of marijuana."

Perhaps most alarming is the report's exposure of the federal license that enables professor ElSohly to exclusively produce marijuana for the pharmaceutical company Mallinckrodt, a subsidiary of Tyco International. This arrangement appears to be for the purpose of bringing to market a generic form of Marinol (a pill of THC, the active compound in marijuana, suspended in oil) due to go off-patent in 2011, thereby directly enriching ElSohly at a price that he and/or the federal government sets. To enable this scheme, the U.S. government has requested the United Nations increase a quota (from past years) for marijuana production by 900 percent. The request to increase federal marijuana production is a requirement of the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Recommendations outlined in the report include, implementation of Judge Bittner's 2007 recommendations, streamlining the approval process for obtaining research-grade marijuana, and ultimately a removal of marijuana from the list of Schedule I substances, so that it can be made available to all who would benefit from its therapeutic properties. "The current research challenge is to conduct large-scale human clinical trials that evaluate the remarkable range of potential applications for cannabis-based treatments to specific medical conditions," continued Woodson.