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DEA is Pushing to Increase Cannabis Growth, Reduce Opioid Prescriptions

In the face of a nation-wide epidemic of opioid abuse, the Drug Enforcement Administration seems to be changing its tune on cannabis.

A.J. Herrington

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DEA is Pushing to Increase Cannabis Growth, Reduce Opioid Prescriptions
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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is pushing to increase the amount of cannabis grown for research purposes while reducing the opioids produced in the country.

Each year, the DEA sets production quotas for more than 250 Schedule 1 and 2 controlled substances. These quotas reflect “the total amount of controlled substances necessary to meet the country’s medical, scientific, research, industrial, and export needs for the year and for the establishment and maintenance of reserve stocks,” the DEA said in a press release.

In a Federal Register filing to be published soon, the DEA has set a quota of about 5,400 pounds of cannabis production in 2019 for U.S. research. That figure is a more than fivefold increase over the approximately 1,000 pounds of cannabis authorized for 2018.

Under federal regulations in place since 1968, all cannabis used in authorized research programs must be produced at a farm at the University of Mississippi. But researchers have said it is too difficult to obtain the cannabis, which is often of low quality when it is available.

In 2016 the DEA approved a process to allow more cultivators to grow cannabis for research. More than 20 facilities have filed applications to become licensed cultivators, but the Justice Department, under Jeff Sessions, has blocked the DEA from processing the applications.

Lower Quotas For Opioids

The DEA is also setting a reduction in the quota for the production of opioid medications in the U.S. next year. In accordance with a federal government plan to cut nationwide opioid prescriptions by one-third in three years, the DEA reduced the quota for the six most commonly used opioids by an average of 10 percent. It is the third consecutive year of quota reductions for Schedule 2 opioids including oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, morphine, and fentanyl.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the DEA action will help address the epidemic of opioid overdoses currently raging in the United States.

“The opioid epidemic that we are facing today is the worst drug crisis in American history,” said Sessions. “President Trump has set the ambitious goal of reducing opioid prescription rates by one-third in three years. We embrace that goal and are resolutely committed to reaching it. According to the National Prescription Audit, we have already made significant progress in reducing prescription rates over the past year. Cutting opioid production quotas by an average of ten percent next year will help us continue that progress and make it harder to divert these drugs for abuse.”

Justin Strekal, the political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told Forbes that the DEA increase in cannabis cultivation is a step in the right direction, but that action is needed from lawmakers, as well.

“While the drastic increase in requested production of marijuana by the DEA is a positive sign, significant barriers still exist including but not limited to the NIDA monopoly on cultivation and undue hurdles for researchers to qualify for a permit,” Strekal said. “It’s time that Congress look at the 28,000 plus peer-reviewed studies currently hosted on the National Institute of Health’s online database and reform federal law by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act altogether”

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