Rick Doblin, president of Belmont-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), can't believe how long it's dragged on. Since 2001, Dr. Lyle Craker, a UMass professor of plant and soil sciences, has sought, with MAPS's help, to be licensed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to grow a crop of research-grade marijuana with an eye toward Food and Drug Administration–approved studies into its efficacy as a prescribable medicine. (See "The Right to Grow," August 26, 2005.)
In 2004, the DEA rejected Craker's petition to grow plants that could be studied in place of the poor-quality and parsimoniously distributed federal crop maintained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The following year, Craker, along with MAPS and the American Civil Liberties Union's Drug Law Reform Project, challenged that decision with extensive testimony before an administrative-law judge who eventually ruled, in a formal but non-binding 2007 recommendation, that Craker should be allowed to proceed.
Now, two years later, as the Bush administration sputters to its end, the DEA has taken a parting shot against science, rejecting that opinion and refusing Craker's license.
If the decision is galling, it's not at all surprising. In fact, says MAPS president Rick Doblin, one news-wire service told him they viewed this as a non-story "because we already know the DEA is against medical marijuana."
But, of course, just days from now, we'll have a new sheriff in town. What then?
"That's what we don't know," says Doblin. Clearly. "The Bush administration decided that they would make it a lot harder for the Obama administration and the DEA [to change course] under whatever new leadership they get."
And while Doblin is heartened by the leftward tack an Obama administration will surely represent on most issues, he's much more circumspect when it comes to drug policy.
For one thing, Obama's purported first choice to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was less than inspiring. James Ramstad — a former GOP congressman who's voted against medical marijuana and needle-exchange programs — provoked such an outcry from progressives that his appointment appears to have been scotched. (On Monday, Bush appointed ONDCP Acting Director Patrick Ward to serve as the so-called Drug Czar until Obama makes his pick.)
So, even as heartening state-level legislative efforts continue apace, Doblin says he's taking a "wait-and-see approach" when it comes to federal policy.
But despite Obama's welcome signals that he intends to depoliticize his administration's approach to science, such a commitment may, at least in the early going, be hamstrung by a lack of political will. Doblin says one of Obama's science advisors, asked about medical marijuana, told him: "Good luck, but this isn't something that we're necessarily gonna take up."