The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced a proposed rule to expand marijuana research last week—but it also made clear that it would be exempt from any liability if that cannabis is damaged while in its possession or transit.
Under the proposal, which was formally published in the Federal Register on Monday, DEA will be able to begin licensing additional manufacturers of marijuana to be used in scientific studies. As it stands, there’s only one facility in the U.S. that’s federally authorized to grow the plant for research purposes, and so the new rule is designed to increase that number and, ideally, diversify the types of cannabis available to scientists.
Another proposed change from current policy makes it so DEA itself would technically own all the marijuana that is produced and then sell it to researchers.
However, tucked into the last page of the lengthy document is a provision stipulating the the agency isn’t responsible for the quality of the marijuana stored in its facilities.
“The Administration shall have no liability with respect to the performance of any contractual terms agreed to by a grower and buyer of bulk cannabis, including but not limited to the quality of any cannabis delivered to a buyer,” DEA said. “In the event that a buyer deems the delivered cannabis to be defective, the buyer’s sole remedy for damages shall be against the grower and not the Administration.”
In other words, DEA wants to fulfill its promise from more than three years ago that it would expand cannabis research, but don’t expect it to be paying out for any damages once those additional facilities are up and running.
This rule hasn’t been finalized, however. A 60-day public comment period is open for individuals to provide feedback on the proposal.
All told, reform advocates are encouraged by DEA’s proposed rule. Lawmakers and researchers alike have implored the agency to take steps to increase the output of studies on marijuana as more states have moved to legalize it for medical or recreational use. It reached a point last year that a research institute filed a lawsuit against DEA, asking the court to mandate that it start approving manufacturer applications. That suit was later dismissed after the agency provided a status update.
It’s not clear how many applications will ultimately be approved. DEA didn’t explicitly commit to any number and, of the 37 proposals that have been submitted, some are from companies that have operated retail marijuana shops and may find themselves disqualified under a provision of the rule requiring applicants not to have violated the Controlled Substances Act.
When they are approved, however, DEA made sure that any inadequate cannabis products produced by the new facilities and stored by the agency would not be its responsibility.
Photo courtesy of Evan Johnson.