States like Massachusetts have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, but it’s still classified by the federal government as a schedule 1 drug, along with heroin and LSD. That means it’s considered to have high abuse potential and is not recognized for any medical uses.

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So it’s tricky to study the actual health benefits of the plant. Advocates for marijuana reform met on the UMass campus Monday, and are hoping to build momentum to make the drug easier to study.

About 15 years ago, UMass Amherst agricultural professor Lyle Craker was approached by colleagues who wanted him to supply the cannabis plant for their medical study. He knew it would be a challenge to get a federal permit to grow marijuana, since only the University of Mississippi has a federally-sanctioned growing facility. But he decided to take it on. He started with the Drug Enforcement Agency, which sent agents to his office on campus several times.

“They had a lot of questions. Where we were going to grow it, for example,” Craker says. “They tried to indicate the the administration that we were going to become known as a place where marijuana was rampant on campus.”

When the university administration said they supported the research anyway, Craker says, federal agents told him he’d have to follow a number of onerous rules.

“They talked about 24-hour guards. They talked about…video cameras – inside and outside the room where I was going to grow it, the closed room,” he says. “A lot of things like that we…could always overcome.”

But after about a decade of back and forth, the DEA turned down Craker’s request. His team appealed to a court of appeals in Boston and lost that case.

Researchers across the U.S. can apply to use the marijuana grown at …read more