Congressional Leaders Push DEA to Let Researchers Study Marijuana from Dispensaries

A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers is urging the Justice Department to give cannabis researchers access to marijuana through state-legal dispensaries.

Congressional leaders sent a letter to United States Attorney General William Barr and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) last week, pushing for a policy change that would allow scientists to study cannabis provided through licensed dispensaries.

Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Congressman Harley Rouda (D-CA) led 19 of their fellow lawmakers in sending a bipartisan letter dated Dec. 6 to Barr at the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the letter, the lawmakers touched on recent findings by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that marijuana’s current restrictive federal classification inhibits research.

Because marijuana is a Schedule I substance, scientists are currently limited to obtaining their cannabis materials through the University of Mississippi, the sole recipient of a government license to grow research-grade marijuana. The university has been criticized for its low quality of cannabis.

“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA), signed onto the letter along with Schatz and Rouda.

Push for Research

The DEA is in the process of approving more additional research-grade growers, but the agency hasn’t acted on any applications in the three years since saying it would accept new growers, nor has it given any indication of when it will complete the review process.

In a press release, Rouda called the current cannabis research laws “archaic,” and added that with widespread cannabis legalization, more research into the substance is needed.

“Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products,” she said.

To facilitate cannabis research, lawmakers in the letter recommended that the current policy be changed “to allow researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state-authorized dispensaries for research purposes.”

“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” they wrote.

In addition, they argued that the DEA should clarify that researchers are not required to obtain a license to study hemp since the non-intoxicating cannabis plant and its derivatives were legalized last year in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The lawmakers requested a response from the Justice Department by December 20th.

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