In the United States, researchers who want to study the benefits and side effects of cannabis can obtain the crop from only one source: a single federally licensed cultivation facility at the University of Mississippi. However, there have been numerous complaints that the crop produced by the facility is substandard, with studies finding it to be more genetically similar to hemp than commercial cannabis. Additionally, further studies have found that the cannabis cultivated at the University of Mississippi has lower levels of both THC and CBD compared to commercial cannabis products.
In March 2020, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced a rule change that would allow approval of additional marijuana growers and an increase in the types of cannabis that could be used in studies, a move that would significantly expand cannabis research in the country. More than eight months later, the agency has announced that it has made “minor modifications” to that proposed rule released back in March.
Once the DEA released the initial rules, the public had a 60-day comment period to provide feedback on the proposed rule. The agency divided the comments it has received since then into eight separate categories: quality of marijuana, the application process, and application criteria, the meaning of medical cannabis, federal agency obligations pertaining to cannabis controls, harvest, cost, pricing and fees of marijuana for DEA registrants, security costs and requirements applicable to the manufacture of marijuana and comments outside the DEA’s scope.
The agency did not agree with public comments stating that researchers should be able to use dispensary marijuana in their studies. Additionally, the DEA will now have sole ownership over all marijuana crops in the country that have been cultivated for the sole purpose of research. At the moment, only the grow facility at the University of Mississippi can cultivate cannabis for research purposes, and DEA has no ownership of the products it produces.
To comply with international law pertaining to growing cannabis for research purposes, the agency will now take possession of cannabis crops after harvest and “maintain the exclusive right of importing, exporting, wholesale trading, and manufacturing stocks of marihuana and its resin,” the final guideline states.
The final rule comes after voters in five states approved various forms of marijuana legalization reform and as both the Senate and House have passed cannabis research bills. In addition, the House of Representatives also recently approved legislation to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level; that legislation now awaits Senate action.
In jurisdictions with regulated cannabis markets, things are looking up. For example, Michigan only legalized recreational marijuana in 2018 but Gage Cannabis Co. has already distinguished itself as one of the top companies within that space.
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