UMass professor drops bid to grow medical pot
A University of Massachusetts-Amherst professor says he's dropping his nearly decade-long fight to persuade the government to let him grow marijuana in bulk for medical research.
Horticulturist Lyle Craker wanted to cultivate marijuana to boost research into the plant's potential medicinal benefits. But he's been rebuffed — even as more than a dozen states have legalized medical marijuana.
Craker, 70, said he saw no end in sight to the legal wrangling, given the likelihood of an appeals process that could run several years, or even decades. He was frustrated, too, that he never got a hoped-for boost from the Obama administration.
"I'm disappointed in our system," he said. "But I'm not disappointed at what we did. I think our efforts have brought the problem to the public eye more. ... This is just the first battle in a war."
Craker, who said he has never smoked marijuana, launched his challenge to the government's monopoly on growing and distributing research marijuana in 2001. A lab at the University of Mississippi is the government's only marijuana-growing facility.
Craker contends that the government-grown pot lacks the potency medical researchers need for breakthroughs. He said there isn't enough of the drug freely available for scientists across the country.
"I'm disappointed mostly because of all the patients who could potentially benefit," he said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has blocked Craker and defended the government's marijuana, saying its Mississippi facility provides the necessary quality and quantity for legitimate researchers. The DEA has said permitting other marijuana growers would lead to greater illegal use of the drug.
Craker won a key victory in 2007 when a federal administrative law judge recommended to the DEA that it grant Craker's application to grow marijuana in bulk for use by scientists in government-approved research. In a nonbinding ruling, the judge said the government's supply was inadequate for medical research.
But the DEA ruled against Craker in January 2009 in the waning days of the Bush administration. Craker hoped Obama administration officials would view his case more favorably, but his motion for the DEA to reconsider his case has languished.
Craker and his attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union decided to drop their case.
Craker said he's puzzled why the Obama administration has eased its policy toward states on medical marijuana but won't reconsider his request.
"All we want to do is to produce the material that medical doctors want to use for tests," he said.
Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. In a move that energized the medical marijuana movement, the Obama administration has said it won't target medical marijuana patients or caregivers as long as they comply with state laws and aren't fronts for drug traffickers.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana.
In California, the state's landmark 1996 medical marijuana law allows users only to grow pot for themselves or obtain it from a designated primary caregiver.
Pot dispensaries in California have operated largely free from interference by having users designate the dispensary as their primary caregiver.
Craker has said much more research is needed to determine which types of marijuana can be medically beneficial and how the drug should be used.
"It would be nice to be able to develop plant material that would be specific for glaucoma, specific to inhibit vomiting and all those other things that the plant is credited with doing," he said. "Currently, people with ailments are taking pot shots or they are going to illegal sources, which I suspect most of them are."