At a hearing Wednesday, Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand pressed federal officials to eliminate political barriers that are preventing research on the potential medical benefits of marijuana. The hearing, "Cannabidiol: Barriers to Research and Potential Medical Benefits," was held by the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.
Officials from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) echoed the senators' concerns and expressed support for removing barriers to research that have been created by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
NIDA has a DEA-mandated monopoly on the supply of marijuana available for research purposes, which is grown at the University of Mississippi. Researchers have repeatedly criticized the DEA for refusing to license additional marijuana producers, which they say is preventing the study of marijuana's medical benefits and the development of marijuana-based medicines. They have also criticized the poor quality and low potency of the little marijuana that is currently available, which they say further hinders meaningful research. A DEA administrative law judge ruled that licensing additional producers would be in the public interest, but the DEA has refused to follow the non-binding ruling.
NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow indicated that she agrees the monopoly hinders research and that it should be ended so that additional suppliers can be licensed. The head of the DEA Office of Diversion Control, Deputy Assistant Administrator Joe Rannazzisi, gave no indication that the DEA agrees such a monopoly is a problem or has any plans to license additional producers.
Statement below from Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project:
"The DEA is waging an irrational war on marijuana that is costing people their lives. They are standing in the way of research and the development of potentially life-saving medications. While the DEA is clinging to reefer madness, there are seriously ill people clinging to their lives who could be benefitting from medical marijuana. The DEA is preventing children with seizure disorders and people suffering from diseases like cancer and AIDS from accessing a medication that their doctors recommend and could dramatically improve the quality of their lives.
"When President Obama took office, he mandated that policymaking in his administration be guided by evidence and the scientific process rather than politics and ideology. Clearly, the DEA didn't get the memo. It's absurd that marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug with 'no accepted medical use.' Scientists need to be able to do the important work of developing marijuana-based medicines and putting them through the FDA's approval process. Marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol, and like alcohol it should not be included in federal drug schedules."
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The Marijuana Policy Project, the nation's largest marijuana policy organization, has been responsible for changing most state-level marijuana laws since 2000. For more information, visit http://www.MarijuanaPolicy.org.