An administrative law judge recommended Monday that a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst be allowed to grow marijuana for research purposes, possibly making the state host to the nation's second laboratory authorized to grow the drug.
Professor Lyle Craker, a horticulturist who specializes in medicinal plants, has won support from both Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry in his effort to grow marijuana for research.
Marijuana is now only legally grown at the University of Mississippi, but Craker has argued that the drug grown there is neither potent enough nor readily available to researchers.
In her opinion, which can be overruled by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Judge Mary Ellen Bittner said Craker's bid to grow marijuana "would be in the public interest."
"There would be minimal risk of diversion of marijuana," she wrote. "There is currently an inadequate supply of marijuana available for research purposes … [and] competition in the provision of marijuana for such purposes is inadequate."
In a phone interview, Craker said he had not read the 87-page opinion. "I understand it's favorable, and that's good," he said.
Rick Doblin — president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a drug research group based in Belmont that hopes to sponsor Craker's work — called the decision "a major turning point."
"This is a major step to getting us to do the scientific research that the government has been blocking for the past 30 years," Doblin said. "If the government says no, the hypocrisy of their approach will help fuel efforts for state medical marijuana reforms."
Garrison Courtney, a DEA spokesman, declined to comment on the ruling. "We're still reviewing the opinion," he said. "We'll make a determination at a later point."
Craker first applied to the DEA for permission to grow marijuana in 2001. Kennedy and Kerry later wrote a letter to the DEA, saying that the Mississippi lab had an "unjustified monopoly."
In 2004, Craker and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies sued the government in federal court, charging the DEA with unreasonable delays.
The DEA promptly rejected their bid. In 2005, Craker and the group sought the opinion from an administrative law judge.
If the DEA's administrator decides to reject Bittner's recommendation, Doblin said Craker and the group would file another lawsuit in federal court.