In August 2016, DEA had declared it would review applications from entities who manifested interest in cannabis cultivation for medical research purposes. Candidates included, research institutes, startups, universities and legal cannabis companies. However, shortly after, Jeff Sessions was appointed attorney general and thus, implicitly, chief of the DEA, applicants waited for years, regardless their various attempts to reach out to the Drug Enforcement Administration, both directly and via Congress. Frustrated by the delays, one applicant, the Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI), filed a lawsuit against the DEA in mid-2019, aiming to oblige the agency to reply to the applications. As a response, the DEA stated it would assess them, but only after recommending norms to oversee the cultivation program.
While certain applicants reacted with enthusiasm to this announcement, SRI is not so optimist about it. Since federal ruling entails petitioning and replying to public comments and potential litigation over the resolution, the whole process can take years. This means the DEA could basically just have found a loophole to significantly prolong the waiting time.To this day, and for more than fifty years, the only cannabis that is authorized for research in the United States is cultivated by a department of the University of Oxford, Mississippi, which has a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). But, with the raise of popularity and legality that cannabis has seen in the recent years in the US, researchers find it aggravating to have to rely exclusively on this NIDA-approved facility. The reason is simple: its product is not even remotely representative of the quality of the cannabis that is available in legal states with legal markets, as the president of the Scottsdale Research Institute noted. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the proposed rules are mandatory for compliance with both federal and international law. A very interesting aspect in such proposition is that DEA would collect all cannabis products and byproducts from the new applicants right after harvest, and be the only entity authorized to distribute it. The agency says this procedure is fundamental to properly enforce the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1961 treaty against drug trafficking.
Now, consider this funny predicament: one of the building blocks of medical research is being able to reproduce real world conditions inside a laboratory. As for cannabis, this means being able to employ, for research purposes, a product that reflects the quality of the current legal market products. The new measures proposed by the DEA may automatically rule various applicants out: in fact, one condition is that growers have never broken federal law. This would raise issues for those companies that already produce or distribute marijuana in legal states. those entities who already grow high quality cannabis would not be entitled to participate in the program. So, those who produce cannabis that is up to the necessary research standards would, nonetheless, meet the standards to provide it for research purposes. Other countries, such as Canada, have licensed cultivators for research without taking possession of the cannabis, None of the countries who catered to the Single Convention deliberated as the treaty were supposed to block research. And, not wrongly, some of the interested parties are also wondering how could the agency both regulate and actively participate in the program, as distributor, without raising conflict of interest. Once again, it looks like the Drug Enforcement Administration is not so eager in contributing to the advancement of research on cannabis, disregarding the proven and potential medical benefits that multiple research entities have highlighted in the last ten years.
Source: Science Magazine