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UMass Amherst professor says he will appeal DEA denial for medical marijuana grow

By Patrick Donges


Amherst, MA – On August 8, a second "final order" was signed by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Michele Leonhart denying the appeal of University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Lyle Craker to grow marijuana on the campus for research into the plant's potential medical applications.

The order is just the latest in the case, which has been ongoing since Craker first applied to grow in 2001; here's Craker.

"We began to be aware that many people were using marijuana as a medicine, as opposed to a recreational drug, and one of the things that we noticed was that really there's been few to no scientific studies on what beneficial effects it might have."

Craker's application was first denied in 2009, after a 2007 decision by DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner that allowing him to grow marijuana would be, "in the public interest."

In his appeal, Craker argues that language in a 1961 international treaty cited by the DEA dealing with the production and distribution of "narcotic drugs" by countries where they are produced is a, "catch-22," because while the treaty refers to the use of "medical cannabis" to the federal government such a thing does not legally exist.

The DEA argues that their monopoly on the production and distribution of marijuana is required under the treaty, which Craker claims has made independent research into pot's potential medical properties nearly impossible.

"The National Institute of Drug Abuse has one facility in the University of Mississippi that does grow some material. This has supplied to people that want to run medical trials, but that has been unresponsive to most applications. And the people that have tried this have talked about the poor quality of the material."

Craker said that like several other plants with medicinal properties, specific strains of marijuana could be used to treat specific ailments. He said since he began the legal battle, many people have reached out to him seeking relief for loved ones they feel may be achieved by marijuana.

"Since we started in this I've had lots of emails and letters from people that are looking for help. They're usually appealing for help for one of their parents who is dying of cancer and is continuously vomiting, (or) their child is sick from treatments from HIV or for Leukemia and they're looking for something to cure the vomiting and make their child want to eat again."

"A mother asked me, why does my government make me go to a back alley to but medicine for my child?'"

Craker said he will be looking to appeal the case again with the support of California-based organization the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, but if history is any indicator, at this point he may be less than half way through legal proceedings.

Allen St. Pierre is executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, and a 1989 graduate of UMass Amherst.

"The moment he filed this case, a 22 year clock began. And I say that because NORML began this entire public discussion about whether marijuana can be used for therapeutic purposes when we sued the federal government in 1972 to simply reschedule marijuana."

"It took 22 years for us to lose the first and only phase of our case."

St. Pierre said that despite public opinion and scientific research proving the contrary, the federal government maintains both their monopoly on the production of marijuana for research and, "the big lie," that marijuana has no therapeutic qualities.

"They at this point are clinging so desperately to the so-called big lie' that it is totally demeaning their other, larger, and more important work, if you will."

A bill before Massachusetts legislators that would approve and regulate the use of "medical marijuana" in the state filed by Senator Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst has been before the legislature's Joint Committee on Public Health since March 1.