Professor Gives Up Bid To Grow Marijuana For Medical Research


Jonathan Beller/Boston Magazine
Dr. Lyle Craker, UMass-Amherst: “I’m disappointed mostly because of all the patients who could potentially benefit”

​Respected horticulturalist Lyle Craker of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst has been trying for almost a decade to persuade the federal government to let him grow marijuana for medical research. He wanted to learn more about the plant’s medical benefits. But Craker, 70, was over and over again rebuffed, and now he’s finally giving up.

Craker said he saw no end in sight to the legal wrangling, with an appeals process that could run for years or even decades, reports Andrew Miga of The Associated Press. Craker was also frustrated 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, started his challenge to the government’s monopoly on growing and distributing research cannabis in 2001. One garden at The University of Mississippi is the federal government’s only marijuana-growing facility.
But government-grown pot lacks the potency medical researchers need for breakthroughs, according to Craker. Besides, there isn’t enough of the Ole Miss-grown cannabis available for scientists across the U.S., or even if there is, the government isn’t letting them have it.

“I’m disappointed mostly because of all the patients who could potentially benefit,” he said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration is the reason Craker has never been authorized to grow marijuana for medical research. The DEA has blocked Craker’s requests and defended the government’s marijuana, claiming its Mississippi pot farm provides the necessary quality and quantity for researchers.

Photo: Shroomery
Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly with a bucket of government-grown schwag at The University of Mississippi. Dr. Craker said federal pot is too weak for effective research.

​The DEA also claims that allowing other researchers to grow marijuana would “lead to greater illegal use of the drug.” By all appearances, the agency doesn’t want any positive research on the medical benefits of cannabis, and is willing to block anything which might allow that to happen.
Craker did win a big victory in 2007, when a federal administrative law judge recommended to the DEA that it grant Craker’s application to grow marijuana for use by scientists in government-approved research. In what was unfortunately a non-binding ruling, the judge said the government’s supply was “inadequate for medical research.”
But the DEA ruled against Craker, opting to ignore the judge’s recommendation, in January 2009, during the last days of the Bush Administration. Craker had hoped Obama Administration officials would look at his request more favorably, but his motion for the DEA to reconsider his case his been ignored.
Finally, Craker and his attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union decided to give up and drop their case.
Craker said he’s puzzled why the Obama Administration won’t consider his request, especially since the White House has eased its marijuana enforcement in states where medical marijuana is legal. In a move that energized and emboldened the medical marijuana movement, the administration said it wouldn’t target medical marijuana patients or suppliers as long as they comply with state laws.
“All we want to do is to produce the material that medical doctors want to use for tests,” he said.
More research is needed to determine which types of marijuana can be medically beneficial and how the plant should be used, according to Craker.
“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,” Craker said.