The Drug Enforcement Agency on Thursday published a final rule to make it easier for researchers to cultivate cannabis for research purposes. The plan includes provisions that allow the U.S. to comply with international drug treaties by requiring researchers to acquire cannabis from the DEA rather than from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse.
In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, the DEA said the “unprecedented action serves as a testament to the federal government’s support for scientific and medical research with marijuana and its chemical constituents” and could “ultimately result in the development of additional marijuana-derived medicines” for Food and Drug Administration Approval.
For decades, the federal government has only approved one cultivation site for research cannabis cultivation – the University of Mississippi – which has led to several lawsuits by would-be researchers and complaints about the low-quality end product. Most recently, the DEA, its Acting Administrator Timothy Shea, and outgoing Attorney General William Barr were sued by University of Massachusetts-Amherst researcher Dr. Lyle Craker over the government’s failure to process cannabis research applications.
Under the Obama Administration, the DEA began seeking applications for additional cultivators; but those applications were stalled under the Trump Administration by former Attorney General – and anti-cannabis zealot – Jeff Sessions.
The rule does not allow researchers to obtain cannabis from state-legal producers and dispensaries, citing treaty obligations and public safety concerns. A House bill passed last week to expand cannabis research would allow entities to obtain products from legal markets. This week, the Senate passed its own cannabis research measure which does not include such provisions.
Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment that despite the rule change, “Congress needs to enact legislative reforms” because the DEA “has proven itself full of empty promises when it comes to the issue of facilitating clinical cannabis research in the United States.”
The change is expected to be published in the Federal Register today and the DEA says it could start processing applications starting 30 days from publication in the register. Democratic President-Elect Joe Biden is set to take office on January 20.
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