Since the federal government first began funding marijuana cultivation for research purposes inside a secure facility housed at the University of Mississippi in 1968, they’ve been extremely careful not to let any of that fully legal supply fall into the wrong hands. And by “wrong hands,” we don’t just mean a mythical, ragtag group of on-campus herbal enthusiasts engaged in a Harold and Kumar style stoner-comedy quest to break into America’s ultimate government growroom. We also mean legitimate scientific researchers pursuing FDA-approved studies of cannabis’s potential benefits.


Think about it: If you let the white lab coat types study pot as a medicine, they just might prove how safe and effective it is – and then what?


That’s why the powers-that-be have been effectively blocking almost all such studies, specifically by using their monopoly over federally legal marijuana to bottle up any research that doesn’t fit their preferred framework of pot as a harmful and addictive drug with no accepted medical value. Fortunately (for them), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has the final say on who can access the cannabis grown by the University of Mississippi Marijuana Project, and once NIDA denies you such “research material,” there’s literally nowhere else to turn without breaking federal law.


So no wonder scientists, botanists, and would-be marijuana researchers have been working together to push for a second federally legal marijuana production facility. Most recently, on May 11 of this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, Massachusetts heard oral arguments in a federal lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration for denying Dr. Lyle Craker a license to grow marijuana for privately funded medical research.


The lawsuit follows more than a decade of requests and appeals by Dr. Craker, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Department of Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences who first applied in June 2001 for a DEA license to start the proposed facility. At the time, he was under contract to The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), “a non-profit research and educational organization whose mission includes developing marijuana into an FDA-approved prescription medicine,” according to their website. MAPS has since had FDA-approved marijuana studies rejected by NIDA.


Meanwhile, in 2007, one of the DEA’s own administrative law judges recommended that granting Dr. Craker a license to open a second facility would be in the public interest. But rather than accept that non-binding decision, DEA administrators instead decided to drag their feet for another four years, before finally rejecting the application outright. At which point, Dr. Craker and his allies at MAPS and the ACLU were finally free to sue the DEA in federal court.


Audio of the recent oral arguments in Craker v. DEA is available here. Rick Doblin, founder and Executive Director of MAPS, tells HIGH TIMES that he felt optimistic after leaving the courtroom that day.


“I was delighted to hear the judges indicate that they were likely to reject the DEA's argument that they lacked jurisdiction in this case, in a manner that seemed to indicate the judges were annoyed by the DEA's effort to avoid addressing actual issues,” Doblin reported. “As to the substance of the case, the judges seemed dubious about the DEA's interpretation of US Single Convention treaty obligations and the DEA's attempt to claim that the NIDA monopoly on marijuana for legal research meets the required standard of ‘adequate supply produced under adequately competitive conditions.’


“If we win the case, we'll be able to start a serious FDA drug development research effort that could transform marijuana into an FDA-approved prescription medicine in about ten years, at a cost of about $10 million. If we lose the case, we've clearly demonstrated federal obstruction of research, which should increase support even further for state-level medical marijuana reforms. And even if we do lose, we will eventually be able to start research in the US through importation of medical-grade marijuana from Israel or another country where marijuana is legally produced for medical uses.”


Doblin anticipates a ruling in the current case sometime before the elections in November 2012.