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DEA faces federal lawsuit for blocking marijuana research

Researchers hoping to study the medical benefits of marijuana are taking the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to federal court for blocking access to the plant.

medical marijuana research blocked by deaThe Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has received free legal representation in a lawsuit against the DEA over a license to grow marijuana for federally regulated research.

The D.C.-based law firm Covington & Burling LLP, one of the foremost law firms representing the pharmaceutical industry, has offered pro-bono legal representation to the research group to appeal the DEA’s August 15 final order in the First Circuit Court of Appeals. MAPS estimated the law firm saved them $175,000 in legal costs.

The DEA rejected University of Massachusetts professor Lyle Craker request to obtain a license to grow marijuana to study its potential medical uses, claiming that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) can be the only one to supply marijuana for Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-regulated research.

But NIDA’s monopoly on the supply of marijuana for research has proven troublesome. Although the FDA has approved MAPS’ proposed study of marijuana for U.S. veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the agency has remained silent about whether it will agree to sell MAPS marijuana for the study.

“The federal government’s official policy is that marijuana has no medical benefit,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a legal brief. “But the government is unwilling to put its policy to the test of science: instead, the government exercises monopoly control over the nation’s supply of marijuana that may be used for scientific purposes, by allowing an agency whose mission is to explore the consequences of the abuse of marijuana.”

The DEA ruled in June that marijuana should remain classified as a dangerous drug like heroin because studies have not confirmed its medicinal value, but the agency may itself be to blame for the lack of evidence.
The use of medical marijuana has been legalized in 16 states and the District of Columbia. But, according to the DEA, marijuana cannot be considered to have medicinal value because there is a lack of scientific studies assessing its safety and efficacy as a medicine, and the scientific evidence is not widely available. The agency also noted there are no FDA-approved marijuana products at present.

But the DEA has repeatedly denied Dr. Craker’s application for the production of marijuana, blocking studies that would help determine the drug’s medical benefits.

And just days after the DEA insisted that there is no medical value to marijuana, the White House appeared to contradict the position, saying in a report that there may actually be “some” medical value to “individual components of the cannabis plant.”

Recently, a study conducted by Haifa University in Israel found that rats which were treated with marijuana within 24 hours of a traumatic experience successfully avoided any symptoms of PTSD.

In 2009, the American Medical Association, the largest physician’s organization in the U.S., adopted a resolution calling on the DEA to reclassify marijuana to facilitate research on marijuana-based medicines.

“Results of short term controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis,” the AMA’s resolution (PDF) reads.

By Eric W. Dolan