The Drug Enforcement Administration made a milestone announcement earlier this month with the news that the DEA will begin granting marijuana cultivation licenses to various third-party applicants, significantly expanding medical and scientific cannabis research in the United States.
The announcement came on May 14, with the Administration saying it “is nearing the end of its review of certain marijuana grower applications, thereby allowing it to soon register additional entities authorized to produce marijuana for research purposes.”
It will mark a significant change, as the only current approved supplier of cannabis for research purposes in the United States is the National Center for the Development of Natural Products at the University of Mississippi, where the marijuana cultivation “has been exclusively for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.”
“Pending final approval, DEA has determined, based on currently available information, that a number of manufacturers’ applications to cultivate marijuana for research needs in the United States appears to be consistent with applicable legal standards and relevant laws. DEA has, therefore, provided a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to these manufacturers as the next step in the approval process,” the agency said in its announcement.
In December, the agency said it “finalized new regulations pertaining to applications by entities seeking to become registered with DEA to grow marijuana as bulk manufacturers for research purposes.”
Under those regulations, “applicants are responsible for demonstrating they have met various requirements, including requirements to possess appropriate state authority, document that their customers are licensed to perform research, and employ adequate safeguards to prevent diversion.”
“At this time, DEA has presented those manufacturers referenced above, who appear to meet the legal requirements, with an MOA outlining the means by which the applicant and DEA will work together to facilitate the production, storage, packaging, and distribution of marijuana under the new regulations as well as other applicable legal standards and relevant laws,” the agency said in its announcement.
“To the extent these MOAs are finalized, DEA anticipates issuing DEA registrations to these manufacturers. Each applicant will then be authorized to cultivate marijuana – up to its allotted quota – in support of the more than 575 DEA-licensed researchers across the nation. As individual manufacturers are granted DEA registrations, that information will be made available on DEA’s Diversion Control website. DEA will continue to prioritize efforts to evaluate the remaining applications for registration and expects additional approvals in the future.”
DEA Will Begin Granting Marijuana Cultivation Licenses Years After First Announcing Intention
While advocates have welcomed the expansion of research opportunities, the new regulations established in December were met with some criticism.
NORML said that while it “has long supported facilitating and expanding domestic clinical research efforts, we do not believe that these proposed rules, if enacted, will achieve this outcome. Rather, we believe that the adoption of these rules may further stonewall efforts to advance our scientific understanding of cannabis by unduly expanding the DEA’s authority and control over decisions that ought to be left up to health experts and scientists.”
“Rather than compelling scientists to access marijuana products of questionable quality manufactured by a limited number of federally licensed producers, NORML believes that federal regulators should allow investigators to access the cannabis that is currently being produced by the multitude of state-sanctioned growers and retailers throughout the country. … Doing so would not only facilitate and expedite clinical cannabis research in the United States, but it would also bring about a long overdue end to decades of DEA stonewalling and interference with respect to the advancement of our scientific understanding of the cannabis plant,” NORML said in a statement at the time.
The expansion of cultivation licenses was first floated in 2016, but its implementation has been a slow burn. In April, NORML said that, five years after saying it would consider additional applicants, “the DEA has failed to either affirm or reject any of the more than 30 applications it has received.”