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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Prof Fights for his Right to Grow

A University of Massachusetts Amherst professor may be taking the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to court if his appeal to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes is denied.

Lyle Craker, Professor of Plant Science at UMass Amherst, was denied his petition to acquire a license to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2006 after submitting his request to the DEA in 2001.

Although the DEA Chief Administrator initially ruled against the license, a separate administrative judge within the DEA ruled in favor, leaving Craker and his horticultural team at UMass Amherst waiting for the final verdict, which could take another eighteen months. Even if the ruling is disappointing, though, Craker said he’s determined to take the case to court.

“If the DEA administrator denies this, then we can go to court outside the DEA and then the DEA has to follow the court ruling,” he said. “The court makes their own decisions, so I don’t know if I’ll be denied. Who knows, this is ultimately a political decision.”

This would not only be a political, but a controversial and a precedential decision for the advancement of marijuana research if the court rules in Craker’s favor. Despite persistent outcries from scientists and citizens suffering from AIDS, glaucoma and other illnesses who could potentially benefit from medicinal marijuana, the federal government has maintained its chokehold on the monopoly of medicinal marijuana research.

According to Craker, the federal government grows marijuana by contracting with a researcher in Mississippi for medical research, but that “they essentially do not approve any studies and the plant material they have supplied has very low levels of bio-active constituents, so that the patients get no benefit.”

If granted a license to cultivate and grow marijuana, that’s exactly what Craker and his team at UMass Amherst plan to do. Since Amherst is one of the leading universities in terms of research of medicinal plants in the country, Craker is confident that his team will be able to grow quality marijuana plants with known levels of bio-active constituents. Afterwards, these plants will be supplied to medical doctors and researchers who plan to test the medicinal benefits of marijuana on human patients in clinical trials.

“What we want to propose to do is grow this material to specifications with different types of cannabinoids and bio-active constituents in it and so they could run an honest clinical trial on it,” said Craker.

It is imperative that scientists are granted the right to grow medicinal marijuana for clinical trials because otherwise, Craker warned, needy people end up illegally buying marijuana-unaware of its chemistry and potency-from the black market.

“The thing that bothers me is when people say they’re using this material for treatment of their sister or their child who’s been vomiting from chemotherapy, and they’re wondering why the government forces them to go on the black market to buy it,” he said. “I’d like to see it brought into the pharmaceutical trade and bought by prescription, so that medical doctors could prescribe it, the same as any other medicine.”

While Craker is adamantly opposed to recreational marijuana use, he believes it’s wrong to deny an ill person medicine that could potentially help them. And even though there has been plenty of lay evidence suggesting the medicinal benefits of marijuana, Craker insists that clinical trials are needed to test these claims and provide scientific conclusions, whatever they may be.

“Have there ever been any clinical trials that actually demonstrate this [the claim that marijuana inhibits vomiting and is of medicinal value] better than a placebo? The answer is no, so that’s why you have to do research on it,” Craker said. “If clinical trials show there is no difference [in using marijuana for medical purposes] than giving somebody sugar water, then go ahead and keep it illegal.”