The federal government has opened the door for medical and scientific researchers to have better access to legal marijuana for study purposes. The Drug Enforcement Administration has filed a notice in the Federal Register announcing it will take action on long-delayed applications from potential growers. Approval of the applications will expand the number of entities certified to grow marijuana plants for research.
A contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse currently dictates that all marijuana used for federally approved researchers must be supplied by the University of Mississippi. Researchers have complained that the number of strains of cannabis available for study is too low and that the cannabis produced by the university is low-grade. In 2016, the DEA announced that it would accept applications to expand the number of entities authorized to grow the drug for research purposes, but has yet to do anything with the applications that it received.
According to records, 33 entities, including companies and universities, ultimately applied for the permits. One of those entities, the Phoenix-based Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI), filed a lawsuit in June asking the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to order the DEA and attorney general to process its application. The DEA’s announcement comes two days before the deadline to respond to the lawsuit.
According to the DEA statement, the agency plans to propose new regulations for growers before making a determination about pending applications. The rulemaking process opens the floor to public comments, which the DEA will respond to in writing. The final regulations will obligate the DEA to process applications in some specific fashion and provide rejected growers with specific points of contention that courts can review for their appeals.
Researchers state that better access to legal marijuana for study is necessary to determine what psychological and physiological benefits the plants provide. Marijuana is currently listed as a schedule I narcotic federally, meaning that the federal government has determined that there is no acceptable medical use for marijuana in the United States. This has remained the case despite half the states in the nation legalizing the plant for either medical or recreational use.