UMASS PROFESSOR SUES DEA OVER POT-GROWING APPLICATION A University of Massachusetts plant and soil sciences professor is suing the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration for ''unreasonable delay'' in approving or denying his application to grow high-potency marijuana on campus for government-approved medicinal research. Lyle Craker, director of the medicinal plant program at UMass, is one of three plaintiffs in the suit, which was mailed Wednesday to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the appellate court that typically reviews challenges to federal agencies. Craker's application for permission to grow an initial 25 pounds of high-potency marijuana in a secure location on the Amherst campus was first filed with the DEA in June 2001. Since then, despite letters of support from U.S. Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry and another letter to the DEA from five Massachusetts congressmen, including John Olver, the DEA has taken no action on the application, according to the lawsuit. The marijuana would be supplied to government-approved researchers working on therapies for treating symptoms of AIDS, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis and in alleviating pain and other side effects of chemotherapy. If the DEA approved the application, UMass would be the only legal grower of marijuana for research purposes besides the University of Mississippi, which has supplied the National Institute on Drug Abuse with marijuana for 30 years. The institute is on the Mississippi campus. Chancellor John Lombardi has said the project has his full support Craker is joined in the suit by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and Valerie Corral a governmentally approved medicinal marijuana user from California. MAPS is a Florida-based nonprofit research and educational organization that seeks to develop marijuana as a prescription medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It has received approval to research medicinal uses of marijuana, including in vapor form. The suit asks the DEA to promptly approve or deny both Craker's application and another request by MAPS to import a small amount of high grade marijuana from the Dutch Office of Medicinal Cannabis, the Dutch government agency that supplies medical marijuana to pharmacies in the Netherlands to use in testing of a marijuana vaporizer. Boston attorney Michael D. Cutler, who is representing Craker, MAPS and Corral, said Tuesday it appears as if the DEA is playing a game of three-card monty with the plaintiffs. As detailed in the suit, the DEA claims to have lost Craker's first application for several months before finding it. Then, the agency placed a notice in the Federal Register asking whether anyone had objections to the granting of the application and received only one - from the director of research at the University of Mississippi-based growers. For months it has taken no action at all. ''This is not two graduate students on the phone asking for permission,'' Cutler said. MAPS already has obtained permission to conduct research with substances including Ecstasy. ''Only when you're doing marijuana testing does the National Institute on Drug Abuse have this monopoly. You can't get it from any other place,'' Cutler said. In their Oct. 20, 2003, letter addressed to DEA administrator Karen Tandy, Kennedy and Kerry wrote, ''We believe that the National Institute on Drug Abuse facility at the University of Mississippi has an unjustifiable monopoly on the reduction of marijuana for legitimate medical and research purposes in the United States.'' According to Kennedy and Kerry, the current lack of competition ''may well result in the production of lower-quality research-grade marijuana, which in turn jeopardizes important research into the therapeutic effects of marijuana for patients undergoing chemotherapy or suffering from AIDS, glaucoma, or other diseases.'' Massachusetts Congressmen John Olver, Barney Frank, James McGovern, William Delahunt and Michael Capuano, who support Craker's proposal, wrote to then DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson in June 2002, urging the agency to license privately funded sources of marijuana. But in his July 1, 2002, response addressed to Frank, Hutchinson argued against expanding the number of marijuana producers, saying, ''For more than 30 years, the University of Mississippi has produced an adequate supply to meet the entire United States demand for research-grade marijuana. There is no indication that this supply is currently inadequate or will become inadequate in the future.''