The DEA finally ends the monopoly on research-quality schwaggy cannabis
Late last week, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) tacitly made an announcement that is expected to have a profound and lasting impact on cannabis research and development in the United States.
In its statement, the DEA said it is “nearing the end of its review of certain applications for marijuana growers and will soon be able to register additional agencies approved to manufacture marijuana for research purposes.”
In other words, the government is ending its monopoly on cannabis grown for scientific purposes. And that means American researchers can, for the first time, conduct studies using real-world cannabis instead of the horrific, low-THC swag they’ve had to use for decades.
NIDA monopoly since 1968
There are several reasons this is a big deal. Since 1968, the only federally licensed research cannabis supplier in the United States has been a 12-acre farm operated by the National Center for Natural Product Development at the University of Mississippi. This production was intended solely for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which maintains control over the production and distribution of research-grade cannabis in the United States.
Over the years, the Mississippi weed farm has built a notorious reputation for growing the world’s bad cannabis. Leafly’s Ben Adlin documented the shockingly poor quality in this 2017 article:
Smoking 25% THC, studying 8% THC
The poor quality and low potency of government-grown cannabis is a persistent problem for American cannabis researchers.
The inadequacy of NIDA cannabis has led to some high profile academic disputes, legal proceedings and national headlines, as well as substantiated allegations that the DEA has gained a foothold on the matter. In 2017, Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) stated that NIDA was “totally inadequate as a source of marijuana for drug development research.”
For years, NIDA and DEA have promised to open up the procurement of government-approved research cannabis. But nothing happened.
Didn’t the DEA want to allow others to grow research-grade cannabis?
DEA finally gives in
However, on May 14, the DEA announced that “a number of requests from manufacturers to grow marijuana for research in the United States appear to be in compliance with applicable legal standards and laws.”
As a result, pending final approval, the agency has granted preliminary permits to several organizations to grow cannabis for research purposes.
Currently, only three organizations have been publicly named as approved new producers for research: Groff North America of Pennsylvania, the Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) in Arizona, and the Biopharmaceutical Research Company (BRC) in California.
For George Hodgin, a former Navy SEAL, the founder and CEO of BRC, the DEA’s announcement is nothing but good news.
“Previously, research institutes, biotech companies and other private companies had few, if any, options for federally legal cannabis research and development,” he said in an email to Leafly. “This monumental step by the DEA means that BRC can now position itself as an all-in-one source for reliable and safe research and cultivation.”
Hodgin noted that companies like him also want research institutions to have more choices in the marketplace. Ensure that “the quality of the product is comparable to what is offered by cannabis patients and recreational users”.
The DEA announcement, he added, “will spark a new wave of job creation in the cannabis sector while also starting to develop valuable American intellectual property [intellectual property]. That just wasn’t really possible before this decision. “
Real cannabis finally available
For Matthew Zorn, a Houston-based attorney, the DEA’s decision is historic. Zorn was the co-lead attorney in a Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit, “Scottsdale Research v DOJ / DEA,” filed last year. As a result of that lawsuit, filed on behalf of SRI, the Department of Justice released a previously confidential 2018 memo finding that DEA’s longstanding marijuana research policy violated federal law as well as U.S. treaty obligations.
SRI has made headlines in cannabis research for years, most recently for groundbreaking studies conducted by Sue Sisley, a doctor who conducted clinical trials with military veterans to determine whether cannabis is a safe and well-tolerated treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD) and pain.
Speaking to Leafly in the DEA announcement, Zorn said, “Scientists will be able to clinically test the cannabis strains used with real cannabis. Many people may not appreciate the importance of it [national cannabis] Legalization around the corner. We do not know when, but the need for this research is urgent. We can grow as fast as possible and we have an offer for researchers to get good data. “
Remove barriers to research
The promise to end NIDA’s cannabis monopoly is the first step, according to Zorn, in addressing the long-standing argument by opponents of cannabis legalization that there are no rigorous data in the US to prove the medicinal benefits of cannabis.
“Everything was limited to observational studies,” he said, “and it is true that clinical studies have taken place overseas.” However, the biggest criticism of medical marijuana and the legalization of marijuana in general right now is that there isn’t enough data and research. This is directly due to this NIDA monopoly. And now, hopefully, we’ll get answers. “
Driving innovation in the cannabis sector
BRC’s George Hodgin sees the dawn of a new era in cannabis research and development, in part driven by new players in the market.
“Now there is competition that this space has needed so badly for so long,” he said. “We are ready to compete, we have waited for this for years. The decision to grant these licenses will, in my opinion, lead to an incredible surge in innovation in the healthcare sector. “
However, according to Hodgin, these developments will depend on more than rapid change. “Quality is just as important,” he said. “You can have the best research facilities in the world researching cannabis, but if the quality of the samples does not match what is actually used, the research is not all that helpful. I think the competition will increase the speed, there is no doubt about that, but I also think quality will be a key factor in innovation. “
Bruce Kennedy is an award-winning reporter, editor, and producer based out of Colorado. He has been in the legal cannabis industry since 2010.
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