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  • Washington Highlights

    DEA Expands Access to Marijuana for Research


    Daria Grayer, Director, Regulation and Policy
    Heather Pierce, Senior Director, Science Policy & Regulatory Counsel

    On May 14, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that it is nearing the end of its review of applications to permit cannabis growers to become federally authorized manufacturers for research purposes and that it will soon permit registration of additional entities to produce marijuana.

    The DEA first announced that it would accept applications for new cannabis cultivators at the end of the Obama administration, and after years of delay under the Trump administration, the DEA stated in the May 14 announcement that it has taken steps to “work [with manufacturers who meet legal requirements] to facilitate the production, storage, packaging, and distribution of marijuana” under applicable regulation and law. The agency will also “continue to prioritize efforts to evaluate the remaining applications for registration and expects additional approvals in the future.”

    The importance of conducting research on cannabis and marijuana use has increased as a growing number of states have legalized the recreational and medical uses of the drug. Although this research takes place across the nation, much of it at AAMC member medical schools and teaching hospitals, obtaining the substance to conduct research has been nearly impossible.

    For over 50 years, the National Center for the Development of Natural Products at the University of Mississippi has functioned as the sole federally approved source of cannabis for federal research in the United States, and the DEA describes these recent efforts as “an important step to increase opportunities for medical and scientific research.” As the DEA continues the evaluation and approval process and individual manufacturers and research institutions are granted registrations, this information will be posted on the DEA Diversion Control Division’s website.

    On January 15, 2020, during the first ever House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee meeting on cannabis policies (Cannabis Policies for the New Decade), the DEA acknowledged the need to expedite the evaluation of pending grower applications and shared the concerns of the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health that more research is needed to better understand the therapeutic impact and health consequence of marijuana [refer to Washington Highlights, January 17, 2020].