DEA-Ja Vu: Drug Enforcement Agency Overrules It’s Own Administrative Law Judge — Says NIDA’s Marijuana Monopoly Must Continue

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 12, 2009

    Just days after November’s Presidential election I outlined various ways that President-Elect Obama could use the power of the executive branch to shape U.S. marijuana policy. One of my top suggestions was:

    As president, Obama can also support scientific, clinical research into the medical properties of cannabis by encouraging the DEA to abide by the February 2007 ruling of the agency’s own administrative law judge, which found that it would be “in the public interest” to allow private entities to grow medical-grade cannabis for FDA-approved trials.

    Thanks to a parting shot by outgoing DEA Deputy Administrator Michele Leonhart, the new administration may never get that opportunity.

    On Wednesday, January 7th, Ms. Leonhart published a 118-page decision setting aside DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner’s 2007 ruling. The DEA’s decision constitutes a formal rejection of University of Massachusetts at Amherst Professor Lyle Craker’s petition, filed initially June 24, 2001, to cultivate research-grade marijuana for use by scientists in FDA-approved studies aimed at developing the drug as a legal, prescription medication.

    To those not wholly familiar with this case and Judge Bittner’s ruling, here’s how I initially reported on it:

    [Judge Bittner’s] ruling affirms that the DEA in 2004 improperly rejected an application from the University of Massachusetts (UMass) at Amherst to manufacture cannabis for FDA-approved research.

    Bittner opined: “I conclude that granting Respondent’s application would not be inconsistent with the Single Convention, that there would be minimal risk of diversion of marijuana resulting from Respondent’s registration, that there is currently an inadequate supply of marijuana available for research purposes, that competition in the provision of marijuana for such purposes is inadequate, and that Respondent has complied with applicable laws and has never been convicted of any violation of any law pertaining to controlled substances. I therefore find that Respondent’s registration to cultivate marijuana would be in the public interest.” (emphasis mine)

    … Because Judge Bittner’s 2007 ruling is non-binding, the DEA has no deadline to act on it.

    Under current policy, all federally approved research on marijuana must utilize cannabis supplied by and grown under contract with the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). By contrast, other controlled substances – including LSD, heroin, and MDMA (Ecstasy) – are available to researchers from multiple private manufacturers.

    In 2004, the agency’s director, Nora Volkow, stated that it is “not NIDA’s mission to study the medical uses of marijuana.”

    In her rejection of Judge Bittner’s ruling, Deputy Administrator Leonhart makes it clear once again that politics — not science — continue to govern America’s policies toward the research and use of medicinal cannabis.

    For further information on this breaking story, please tune in to this evening’s edition of the NORML Daily Audio Stash.

    28 responses to “DEA-Ja Vu: Drug Enforcement Agency Overrules It’s Own Administrative Law Judge — Says NIDA’s Marijuana Monopoly Must Continue”

    1. Asemili says:

      She probably did it just to spite NORML for suggesting it. I’ll bet the DEA has this feed on their daily RSS 🙂 Anyway there’s lots of good (and bad) news shaping up right now about cannabis law reform, and as the grassroots movement you’ve created continues to gain national traction, especially in the national media (hopefully), more and more good news will come.

    2. Asemili says:

      Oh, and the diamond to take out of this is that the Obama administration has, at the very least, heard a loud bark from the community on this issue. While they may choose to ignore it in the visible spectrum of things, you can rest assured, they heard more than a whimper. Their fixing to hear another bark from Change.org notwithstanding any shenanigans. I’m still burned by, and frequently bring up, Nancy Pelosi’s idiotic comment about there not being enough support there yet. Well between The Hill, the Change Polls, the government needs only open it’s eyes to see the support.

    3. Dealer Doug says:

      Typical. Well at least that’ll keep the prices high for another couple decades. I should be able to retire by then.

    4. Angus says:

      I truly just do not understand the reason behind that decision. Honestly, what the hell was she trying to accomplish?

    5. David says:

      You’ve got to love it when these hypocrites contradict themselves. Clearly they’re more interested in preserving and protecting their jobs, rather than the interests of the United States and its People. What a disgrace.

    6. Burrow Owl says:

      Corporatism wins out over truth once again.
      Color me surprised.
      The fact that the Drug Warriors are willing to block any and all attempts to allow legitimate scientific inquiry into the properties of cannabis speaks volumes about their fear of the truth.
      If cannabis were truly the demon weed that they claim it is, one would think that they would welcome- and even encourage- honest research. If, on the other hand, they are fully aware that they have been lying to us all of these years…….

    7. Bob says:

      there is no “demon weed” and there never will be.

      The biggest demon has always been alcohol

    8. Jeremy says:

      …sigh…. I’m trying to stay optimistic.

    9. JOSH BUFF says:


    10. Rick says:

      Burrow Owl: Not only are they fully aware that they have been lying to us all these years, they know that we know that they have been lying. They simply don’t give a damn. I wouldn’t expect the new administration to do anything differently