The Drug Enforcement Administration is moving forward with a program that would give federal clearance to new cannabis cultivators to grow marijuana for scientific research.
As of today, only one institution holds a growing license for research-grade cannabis cultivation. Granting authorization to new growers is expected to benefit scientific research on cannabis. The move is also viewed as a significant step toward federal cannabis legalization.
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Ending A 3-Year Stall
One of the biggest problems for the booming cannabis industry in the U.S. is the lack of access to quality cannabis biomass to perform research studies and clinical trials.
This complication is a result of the ongoing federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug.
As of today, the University of Mississippi is the only legal provider of research-grade cannabis materials. The university was granted a cultivation license in the 1960s, and since then it has remained the sole institution with federal approval grow and supply cannabis for scientific purposes.
Expert analysis has found the source materials cultivated by the university to be of poor quality, especially when compared to the products offered at dispensaries in legal states.
Given the urgent need for other sources of research-grade cannabis, the DEA announced in 2016 that it would take applications for new research licenses from other universities and private institutions. Thirty-three applications were filed, but the federal institution failed to respond to them.
The Scottsdale Research Institute, one of the private research organizations that had applied to the original license call, filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the DEA to pressure the agency to respond after three years of silence, according to CBS News.
A Major Step Forward
After pressure from the Justice Department, and just two days away from the deadline, the DEA filed a notice in the Federal Register stating that it is reviewing the applications and "making progress in the program to register additional marijuana growers for federally authorized research, and will work with other relevant federal agencies to expedite the necessary next steps."
Uttam Dhillon, the DEA’s acting administrator, said in a statement that the agency “supports additional research into marijuana and its components, and we believe registering more growers will result in researchers having access to a wider variety for study,” according to CBS.
Attorney General William Barr said he’s "pleased that DEA is moving forward with its review of applications for those who seek to grow marijuana legally to support research."
Dr. Sue Sisley, SRI's head researcher stated that, although the industry is still years away from obtaining new cannabis sources for scientific research, this event marks a big step toward making this happen.
The DEA said it must first develop a new set of regulations for growers before approving the first applications.
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