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Mississippi may soon lose its monopoly on growing marijuana for federal research.

Until now, the University of Mississippi in Oxford has been the only organization with a federal license to grow marijuana for research. It has held that exclusive license for decades; however, other researchers sued to compel the Drug Enforcement Administration to process their applications to grow pot, reports the Philadelphia Enquirer. Some researchers submitted applications as long as three years ago, but the DEA has yet to process any of the two dozen it has received.

Yesterday, Aug. 26, the DEA announced in a statement that it is moving forward to facilitate and expand scientific and medical research for marijuana in the United States, providing notice of pending applications from entities applying to be registered to manufacture marijuana for researchers.

According to the paper, researchers in recent years have complained that the Mississippi cannabis is of poor quality and low potency, and often tainted by mold and other impurities. Some have called it “Mississippi ditch weed” and lamented that the delay has prevented them from doing federally permitted science using high-quality, readily available marijuana produced in other states.

DEA anticipates that registering additional qualified marijuana growers will increase the variety of marijuana available for research purposes, the DEA statement said.

Over the last two years, the total number of individuals registered by DEA to conduct research with marijuana, marijuana extracts, derivatives and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has increased by more than 40 percent, from 384 in January 2017 to 542 in January 2019. Similarly, in the last two years, DEA has more than doubled the production quota for marijuana each year based on increased usage projections for federally approved research projects.

“I am pleased that DEA is moving forward with its review of applications for those who seek to grow marijuana legally to support research,” Attorney General William P. Barr said in the statement.  “The Department of Justice will continue to work with our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services and across the administration to improve research opportunities wherever we can.”

“DEA is making progress in the program to register additional marijuana growers for federally authorized research and will work with other relevant federal agencies to expedite the necessary next steps,” said DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon.  “We support additional research into marijuana and its components, and we believe registering more growers will result in researchers having access to a wider variety for study.”

This DEA statement also announced that, as the result of a recent amendment to federal law, certain forms of cannabis no longer require DEA registration to grow or manufacture. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2018, changed the definition of marijuana to exclude “hemp”—plant material that contains 0.3 percent or less delta-9 THC on a dry weight basis. Accordingly, hemp, including hemp plants and cannabidiol (CBD) preparations at or below the 0.3 percent delta-9 THC threshold, is not a controlled substance, and a DEA registration is not required to grow or research it.

Before making decisions on these pending applications, DEA intends to propose new regulations that will govern the marijuana growers program for scientific and medical research. The new rules will help ensure DEA can evaluate the applications under the applicable legal standard and conform the program to relevant laws. To ensure transparency and public participation, this process will provide applicants and the general public with an opportunity to comment on the regulations that should govern the program of growing marijuana for scientific and medical research.

John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of  the book “Marijuana: A Short History,expects the agency to continue to drag its feet.

“They are buying themselves more time by saying ‘We’ll begin to consider applications, but we’ll need everyone to comply with a new set of regulations,’” Hudak told the Philadelphia Enquirer. “My guess would be that unless they already have chosen a grower who they feel comfortable with — and craft regulations that specifically will match that candidate — they will disqualify everyone.

“They’re looking to delay this for as long as possible.”

 

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