The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Monday announced that it will move forward with a years-delayed expansion of the agency's marijuana research program, meaning the agency soon could permit more growers to produce marijuana for use in medical and other studies.
Federal law prohibits the production, distribution, and possession of marijuana in the United States. However, some states in recent years have passed laws that decriminalized such practices. For instance, some states allow marijuana to be sold for recreational use, and some have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana. Overall, at least 29 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana distribution and use in some manner.
However, research on marijuana's effects is lacking, in part because the federal prohibitions against marijuana make it difficult for researchers to conduct clinical trials on the substance.
DEA in 2016 said it would expand the number of licensed growers that the agency permits to produce marijuana for use in medical and other research. But the agency so far has licensed only one producer, at the University of Mississippi, despite having received more than 33 applications for such licenses since 2016.
The Scottsdale Research Institute filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to order DEA to disclose why it has not approved new applications. DEA's announcement on Monday came days before a court-imposed deadline for the agency to respond to the lawsuit.
DEA says it will move forward with marijuana research program's expansion
DEA on Monday said it soon will release new guidelines that the agency will use to expand the number of facilities licensed to produce marijuana for research. DEA said the guidelines will help the agency to evaluate and approve the applications it has received under applicable legal standards.
DEA in a regulatory filing said authorizing more marijuana producers "should facilitate research, advance scientific understanding about the effects of marijuana, and potentially aid in the development of safe and effective drug products that may be approved for marketing by [FDA]."
The agency said 542 people currently are registered to conduct research on marijuana, and acting DEA Administrator Uttam Dhillon said increasing the number of licensed marijuana producers will give those researchers more opportunities to study the substance. "We believe registering more growers will result in researchers having access to a wider variety for study," he said.
In addition, DEA on Monday said producers of hemp—which is an industrial form of marijuana that, "has little psychoactive effect"—no longer need to obtain a permit from DEA. DEA said legislation passed in 2018 legalized hemp cultivation, and hemp is no longer considered to be marijuana (Sullivan, Reuters, 8/26; Weixel, The Hill, 8/26; DEA release, 8/26).