Thursday, August 11, 2016
DEA announces new policy "designed to increase the number of entities registered under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to grow (manufacture) marijuana to supply legitimate researchers in the United States"
As the DEA exaplins in this press release (which also notes its decision to deny petitions seeking rescheduling of marijuana under the CSA (discussed here)), the agency has "announced a policy change designed to foster research by expanding the number of DEA- registered marijuana manufacturers." The formal announcement of the new policy can be found in this Federal Register document, and here is more about the policy change from the DEA press release:
This change should provide researchers with a more varied and robust supply of marijuana. At present, there is only one entity authorized to produce marijuana to supply researchers in the United States: the University of Mississippi, operating under a contract with NIDA. Consistent with the CSA and U.S. treaty obligations, DEA’s new policy will allow additional entities to apply to become registered with DEA so that they may grow and distribute marijuana for FDA-authorized research purposes.
This change illustrates DEA’s commitment to working together with the FDA and NIDA to facilitate research concerning marijuana and its components. DEA currently has 350 individuals registered to conduct research on marijuana and its components. Notably, DEA has approved every application for registration submitted by researchers seeking to use NIDA-supplied marijuana to conduct research that HHS determined to be scientifically meritorious.
Encouragingly, John Hudak at Brookings, who understand the ins and outs of federal marijuana laws and regulations better than anyone, has this new commentary explainaing why he thinks this DEA marijuana research decision "is more important than rescheduling." Here is how he starts his must-read commentary:
Today the Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to announce its decision on a five-year-old marijuana rescheduling petition. After a long wait and amid wild speculation about the agency’s intentions, DEA has decided to keep marijuana as a Schedule I substance, but to take the unexpected step of ending the monopoly on the production of research grade marijuana.
This move will certainly disappoint many in the marijuana reform community who hoped that DEA would change marijuana’s status. Under current policy — and now continuing policy — marijuana is categorized along with heroin and LSD as a substance that has no medical value and that has a high potential for abuse. Reformers hoped that the administration would accept the claim that marijuana has medical benefit and can be used safely in treatment. Today, it is opting not to do so.
However, DEA, in a clear sign of the growing political complexity around cannabis policy in the United States, will strike a balance. Rather than wholly maintaining the current policy, the administration nixed a different stumbling block to the study of marijuana and its efficacy as a medical product: the DEA mandated monopoly on the growth of marijuana for research (administered through the National Institutes on Drug Abuse). The DEA-mandated NIDA monopoly was cited as a significant barrier to research by observers like myself, Mark Kleiman and many others, as well as clinical researchers themselves.
Despite reformers’ discontent, this decision may be more meaningful than the ultimate goal of rescheduling for both policy and political reasons.