When the federal Department of Health and Human Services recently issued a request for proposals, seeking competitive applications for the production, analysis and distribution of "marijuana cigarettes," the request might have seemed a bit unusual to those unfamiliar with Washington's dance around cannabis research.
The federal government, after all, is not widely known to support marijuana cultivation.
But those in the know just shrugged. The department has issued similar requests every few years to select a contractor to conduct government-approved marijuana research, and with depressing regularity it has then awarded an exclusive contract to the University of Mississippi. For 40 years now, Washington has sought such "competitive applications" and Mississippi "wins" every time.
This rigged contest has successfully thwarted meaningful academic inquiry into marijuana's medicinal value, without which the debate over its efficacy is bound to endure.
Other studies -- not conducted by the University of Mississippi -- have suggested that marijuana has therapeutic value. But because the United States has discouraged such research and made it legally difficult to undertake, these studies have been limited in scope. What's missing is the broad research analyzing the cultivation and properties of different strains and their effects on a variety of illnesses. For example, a strain of cannabis that is most effective with glaucoma may not be the same strain best suited to cancer patients.
Even if the university were running a perfect program, one institution cannot fulfill the country's research needs. In February 2007, when Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration grant a license to cultivate marijuana for research purposes to a botanist at the University of Massachusetts, she said she had concluded that the supply of marijuana from the University of Mississippi program was of insufficient quality and quantity for research purposes.
The deadline for this latest round of applications is Oct. 9. The government should take the opportunity to break the University of Mississippi's monopoly and choose a different institution. That step alone would be a sign that the Obama administration will prioritize science over politics. Merely shifting the contract from one institution to another, however, won't change the status quo. That will only happen when the federal government changes policy and awards multiple contracts for this important research.
Note: For 40 years, federal marijuana studies have been conducted in one place -- the University of Mississippi. Contracts should be awarded to several different institutions.
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Published: September 4, 2009
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times