The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is facing yet another lawsuit over its marijuana policy—with a scientist now urging a federal court to compel the agency to grant his application to produce cannabis for research purposes.
In a filing submitted to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on Wednesday, a longtime marijuana researcher backed by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) called on DEA to either approve his application to be a federally registered marijuana cultivator or at least take action on the request so he can appeal if denied.
It’s been four years since Lyle Craker of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst submitted the application without hearing back from DEA. And that’s not an unfamiliar story, as the agency has yet to decide on more than 30 proposals to grow cannabis for research purposes in the timeframe.
That’s despite the fact that DEA announced in 2016 that it would begin the process of approving additional marijuana cultivators. Currently, there’s just one, at the University of Mississippi, that has held a monopoly on federally authorized cannabis cultivation.
Researchers and lawmakers have argued that the quality of the plant grown at that facility is inadequate. Indeed, a study found that its cannabis is more chemically similar to hemp than marijuana sold in state-legal commercial markets.
“The medicinal use of marijuana is a public health issue that is vital to the wellbeing, health, and safety of millions of Americans,” the suit states, adding that while the government continues to maintain that cannabis does not have therapeutic value, it has roadblocked research that could prove otherwise.
Craker first applied to be registered as a DEA-approved marijuana manufacturer in 2001 but was ultimately denied because, the agency said at the time, it did not have the authority to approve additional processors beyond the University of Mississippi facility. They changed their tune in 2016, however, and the doctor resubmitted an application.
“Had Dr. Craker’s initial application in 2001 been processed appropriately, marijuana medicines would now be available through pharmacies, regardless of state law, with the strict safety protocols and dosing regularity people with compromised immune systems and serious illnesses need,” MAPS Executive Direct Rick Doblin said in a press release. “It’s hard to imagine the scope of suffering that people have had to endure because politics and fear trump science for prohibition-minded officials like the Attorney General.”
The new suit states that “DEA has unreasonably and unlawfully failed to act on Dr. Craker’s second application.”
In a separate legal challenge against DEA, the Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) alleged that the agency has been deliberately using delay tactics to avoid approving additional marijuana manufacturers.
A court mandated that DEA take steps to make good on its promise, and that suit was dropped after DEA provided a status update.
In March, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.
The same scientists behind that original case filed another suit against DEA in March, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications.
That was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released in April as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.
Despite the fact that DEA says it is in the process of rulemaking to accept additional cultivators, this latest suit “seeks a declaratory judgement that DEA is required to process applications submitted prior to promulgation” of its proposed rules.
“MAPS has been dismantling onerous barriers to cannabis research on behalf of scientists who could neither conduct good research under the [National Institute on Drug Abuse] monopoly nor criticize it for fear their other research would be threatened,” Sue Sisley of SRI, said. “The only way to create a level playing field for cannabis medicines is to finally allow access to real-world flower that represents the diverse varieties that are readily available throughout the nation’s regulated markets.”
In another recent case, the agency asked a federal court to reject a case calling for a review of its decision not to reclassify marijuana under federal law.
In a brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Monday, DEA asserted that that suit is invalid because the plaintiffs in the case weren’t the ones to make the ultimately rejected rescheduling request in the first place and, the agency claimed, the petition lacked merit in any case.
Scientists and veterans in that case sued the federal agency in May, arguing that the legal basis DEA has used to justify keeping cannabis in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is unconstitutional. They asked for a review of its decisions to reject rescheduling petitions in 2020, 2016 and 1992.
DEA asked the court to dismiss the suit, but that request was rejected in August. It was “denied without prejudice to renewing the arguments in the answering brief,” the judges said.
Read this latest suit against DEA over marijuana cultivation below:
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.