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Colorado Seeks Federal Approval for State Colleges to Grow Cannabis

Young Cannabis Plants in Varying Sizing Pots waiting for Approval to Study at Colorado State Colleges

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Colorado Seeks Federal Approval for State Colleges to Grow Cannabis

Photo by Brett Levin

Colorado is pushing barriers once again with its most recent request to federal authorities: let colleges study marijuana.

In a letter to federal health and education officials, Deputy Attorney General David Blake requested cannabis on behalf of the state’s colleges for research.

According to the Denver Post, the letter states: “Current research is riddled with bias or insufficiencies and often conflict with one another, it is critical that we be allowed to fill the void of scientific research, and this may only be done with your assistance and cooperation.”

Lack of cohesion between state institutions and federal authorities is one of the largest hurdles put in the path of academic research for medical marijuana. To date, cannabis is still categorized as a Schedule I substance, the most restrictive of five groups established by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

The process to approve research for marijuana is so unmanageable, many have began calling for the loosening of restrictions. According to the NY Times, a letter signed by members of Congress, including four Republicans, called the extra scrutiny of marijuana projects “unnecessary,” saying that research “has often been hampered by federal barriers.”

Some of the associated difficulties of the ban were brought to light this past summer, when Dr. Sue Sisley — a psychiatrist at the University of Arizona who had sought federal approval to study marijuana’s effectiveness in treating military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder for nearly four years — was fired from her position for “funding and reorganization issues.”

While Dr. Sisley remains convinced the real reason was her support for marijuana research, Colorado’s continuing support in the subject could potentially be a major advantage to hindered researcher like Sisely. She is  awaiting a final approval for a $2 million grant to continue her research.

If approved, participants for the study would be split between a to-be-determined location in Arizona and John Hopkins University in Maryland. The study will evaluate four types of inhaled marijuana given to veterans with PTSD, varying the amount of THC that veterans receive, with the goal of evaluating harm or benefit.

Other studies set for approval will look at whether marijuana can be used to treat childhood epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, pediatric brain tumors and spinal pain.

Money for projects like these would come from the recently approved $8.4 million set aside for research, a surplus created from registration fees for medical marijuana applications.

Since 1968, the only available source of marijuana for federally-approved research comes from the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research, which cultivates cannabis on a 12-acre plot.

Interestingly, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has recently put the government’s cannabis-farm contract up for rebid. Applicants are required to have 12 acres of “secured and video-monitored” outdoor space and 1,000 square feet of indoor space to grow marijuana and to be able to make marijuana extractions, test for potency and prepare marijuana for packaging. 
The contract’s winner is expected to be announced in the next couple of months.

The Drug Enforcement Administration this year increased the amount of pot the government’s only official supplier can grow — from 21 kilograms to 650 kilograms, however the letter from Blake to federal officials states this falls short of being able to supply researchers with the kinds of products available in Colorado’s commercial marijuana market and that more needs to be done.

While the letter doesn’t further specify how the colleges would plan to implement a grow center, it was written in accordance with a law passed in 2014 requiring state officials to ask that Colorado colleges and universities be allowed “to cultivate marijuana and its component parts.”

What would you like to researchers to study about cannabis? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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