A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers is demanding that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) “expeditiously” finalize rules to license more growers of marijuana to be used in scientific research.
They argue that a years-long delay in approvals has not only undermined research objectives but also is stunting job creation for scientists who are interested in studying cannabis.
“It is imperative that lawmakers have scientific evidence about potential medical uses, side effects and societal impacts of cannabis to guide policy decisions,” the House members said in letter, which was led by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and signed by 10 other lawmakers. “The only way that can occur is if our academic and clinical researchers are permitted to conduct well-controlled, scientific studies on these materials.”
“To do so, they must have access to federally compliant cannabis and its chemical constituents in sufficient quantity and quality,” they wrote, adding that, as it stands, only one cannabis manufacturer at the University of Mississippi is federally authorized to cultivate the plant.
Studies indicate that the marijuana grown at that site is genetically closer to hemp than cannabis varieties sold at dispensaries in legal states, raising question about applicability of findings from research that relies on it.
While DEA has said that it’s in the process of approving additional cultivation facilities, it’s been more than four years since they first announced that applications for more growers would be accepted. In March, the agency proposed a rule change that it said would enable it to approve those cannabis cultivators and diversify the types of marijuana available to be used in studies. DEA ultimately received about 250 comments on that proposal, but it still hasn’t finalized the rule or granted any new licenses.
Beyond limiting research, DEA’s delay has compromised job growth, the lawmakers said.
“Delays in approving grower applications for the manufacturing of research-grade marijuana have had potentially detrimental effects on Americans’ health as untested products are being widely used for numerous medical conditions without safety or efficacy data to support these uses. It has also cost American jobs as other countries around the world such as Israel, the United Kingdom and Canada, have taken the lead in Cannabis research, reaping the benefits of patents and products derived from this research. Meanwhile, American researchers have resorted to importing cannabis from overseas.”
The letter, which was first reported by Politico, also references a January hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health that specifically addressed limitations in federal marijuana research. That meeting was requested by four Republican lawmakers in December 2019.
Along with McMorris Rodgers, the other signatories on this latest letter are: Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Buddy Carter (R-GA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Andy Harris (R-MD), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Lou Correa (D-CA).
“Scientific data must guide marijuana legislation, but current regulations inhibit that data collection,” Griffith told Marijuana Moment. “DEA can help correct this deficiency by moving forward with its draft rule and reviewing additional cannabis manufacturing licenses.”
Last year, another bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the Justice Department, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.
Read the letter from House members on DEA marijuana research below:
Photo courtesy of Evan Johnson.