David Bienenstock

The Democratic presidential nominee speaks out in support of a groundbreaking proposal from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to grow marijuana for FDA-approved medical-marijuana research.

Have you ever heard some stone-faced politician admit that, yes, maybe, perhaps at some time in the hazy past, he "experimented" with the marijuana—a turn of phrase that brings to mind Bunsen burners more than bowls and blunts? Bill Clinton copped to such a scholarly interest in the demon weed (though, famously, he didn’t inhale), as did nearly all of the major Democratic nominees for President in 2004, and presumably George W. Bush himself—who, of course, admits to nothing. But if the gateway theory holds any bongwater (pot leading to coke, and the like), we can safely assume that frat boy Dubya toked his fair share, put a white hat on backwards and rocked out to whatever was the equivalent of the Dave Matthews Band in 1966.

Bush's classmate that year at Yale, Senator John Kerry, is also running for president, but unlike our current commander in chief, he wants to begin experimenting with marijuana immediately. No, not in the Oval Office. In the research lab.

In October 2003, Kerry sent a letter to the DEA in support of a proposal by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to grow marijuana for research approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. The letter also criticized the National Institute on Drug Abuse's "unjustified monopoly on the production of marijuana for legitimate medical research," noting that "the current lack of such competition may well result in the production of lower-quality research-grade marijuana, which in turn jeopardizes important research."

In layman's terms: If the government growing pot for clinical research is the same government that’s raiding medical gardens and spending millions of taxpayer dollars on ads to malign marijuana, then there's a real chance you're going to end up with medical schwag for clinical trials—and not much of it (as is the case in Canada). And so the current system is a Catch 420: We can't change the laws until research proves that medical marijuana is "real," and we can't let you conduct that research because marijuana is illegal and we don't have any to give you.

Dr. Lyle Craker, director of the Medicinal Plant Program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, filed his initial application with the DEA in June 2001 for approval of a facility that would produce marijuana for FDA-approved studies. Despite support from Senator Kerry, NORML, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which would sponsor the facility, there has been no response from the DEA as of press time. Hence, in July, Dr. Craker filed a lawsuit in federal court to force a decision.

“We initially plan to grow about 25 pounds for use by doctors who wish to test the medicinal value of marijuana,” Dr. Craker told HTGA. “The DEA has visited with me on campus at least twice to speak with the university administration and to see the potential growing facilities. We’ve cooperated with them to make sure all [cannabis] materials are accounted for and all waste materials would be incinerated. The lawsuit is necessary because the DEA apparently cannot make a decision. They previously said they’d decide in six weeks, but that time has passed. Failure to make a decision leaves our research and the research of others in limbo, denying tests that could validate medical applications of marijuana and help people that need such medicine.”

And what about the man who would be president? We know that John Kerry supports clinical research and has pledged to "put a moratorium on the raids" of legitimate medical-marijuana suppliers, but what about his more personal experience? For the record, he says he tried toking a few times after returning from Vietnam, but the smoke bothered him. Fair enough.