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Botanist asks OK to grow marijuana

ARLINGTON, Va. -- A professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who has waged a nearly six-year fight to persuade the government to let him grow marijuana for medical research pressed his case yesterday outside the offices of the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Horticulturist Lyle Craker said he wants to boost research into potential medicinal benefits of marijuana.

"We've looked at this as just another medicinal plant that needs to be studied," Craker, who heads the school's medicinal plant program, said during a press conference outside DEA offices.

Craker is awaiting a DEA decision on his case. DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said in an e-mail that it would be inappropriate to comment since the matter is pending.

Earlier this year, a federal administrative law judge recommended to the DEA that it grant Craker's application to grow marijuana in bulk for use by scientists in Food and Drug Administration-approved research. The nonbinding ruling said the government's supply was inadequate for medical research. It also concluded that Craker's request was in the public interest.

Craker is challenging the government's monopoly on research marijuana. A lab at the University of Mississippi is the government's only marijuana-growing facility. Craker's suit asserts government-grown marijuana lacks the potency medical researchers need.

DEA lawyers have defended the government's marijuana, saying its Mississippi growing center provides adequate quality and quantity for researchers.

Craker said his case has been hurt by DEA concerns about the drug falling into the hands of students. He said he was confident that security measures could be used at UMass to prevent that.

"They've gotten confused between recreational use and medical use," he said of the DEA. "That's what needs to be separated out. . . . When the DEA understands that, they'll be probably prepared to move forward."