Lawsuit Pushes DEA To Explain Delays As Applications For Marijuana Research Pile Up

Lawsuit Pushes DEA To Explain Delays As Applications For Marijuana Research Pile Up

For years, the Drug Enforcement Administration has delayed applications for growing and researching marijuana without explanation. 

No more.

A new lawsuit has pushed the enforcement agency into publishing an internal memo that explains why it has yet to hand out more licenses for the production of research-grade marijuana.

The DEA has stated on numerous occasions that new licenses will be issued, but applications have not yet been processed. According to the newly published document, the DEA’s handling of marijuana cultivation for federally allowed research is in violation of an international treaty from 1961.

A History Of Delays In Federal Marijuana Research

Marijuana grown for federally allowed research is cultivated by the University of Mississippi, as part of a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse that dates back to the 1960s.

For over six decades, the NIDA has been the only institution federally allowed to grow marijuana for research purposes.

This marijuana, per an independent expert analysis, is said to be of poor quality and low potency. Allowing for the availability of a wider variety of cannabis for research purposes is a crucial step toward achieving the scientific consensus necessary to reach a federal legalization policy.

In 2016, the DEA announced that it would take applications from new institutions to become licensed producers of federally allowed marijuana for research.

Some 33 institutions applied, including companies and universities. The agency failed to respond.

In June 2019, after three years passed since an application was made, Phoenix-based Scottsdale Research Institute filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department demanding a response from the agency.

In August 2019, the DEA announced that it had started reviewing the applications and was moving forward with the necessary steps required to allow more licenses.

DEA Forced To Reveal 'Secret' Document That Accounts For Delays

After eight months without further news, the Scottsdale Research Institute filed a new lawsuit in March 2020.

This time, the institute demanded that under the Freedom of Information Act, the public should be informed as to why the applications went unprocessed, according to Marijuana Moment.

The parties reached a settlement Tuesday under which the DEA agreed to release a memo titled “Licensing Marijuana Cultivation in Compliance with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.”

The document, issued to the DEA in June 2018 by Henry C. Whitaker, deputy assistant to the attorney general, claims that the licensing scheme proposed by the DEA is in violation of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, an international treaty signed by 186 nations that regulates how countries can handle drug production and research.

As a side note, Canada’s legalization of adult-use cannabis is in open and direct violation of this convention, though the Canadian government has yet to announce its withdrawal from the treaty. Uruguay, the only other sovereign country to legalize recreational marijuana, stated its voluntary non-compliance from the treaty without significant consequences.

The Department of Justice document said that under the Single Convention, in order to cultivate marijuana countries must “establish “a single government agency” to oversee marijuana growers and generally to monopolize the wholesale trade in the marijuana crop.

This means that DEA’s licensing framework must provide for a system in which the agency has physical possession and ownership over the cultivated marijuana and assumes control of its distribution.

Under the current policy, DEA does not purchase or take physical possession of grown marijuana at any point in the distribution process. Instead, the University of Mississippi grows and distributes the marijuana. The DEA’s intention to allow for more applicants continues the system in which cultivators sell and distribute the product to researchers independently.

The fact that the National Institute on Drug Abuse regulates the sole legal grower is also in conflict with Single Convention of 1961, which demands that only one government agency oversee the entire process. NIDA is not overseen by the DEA, making them two separate bodies, thus breaking another treaty rule.

“DEA must adopt a framework in which it purchases and takes possession of the entire marijuana crop of each licensee after the crop is harvested. In addition, DEA must generally monopolize the import, export, wholesale trade, and stock maintenance of lawfully grown marijuana,” the document said. 

Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash.


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