Buried in the wave of today’s bad news following the DEA’s announcement that it would continue to consider cannabis among the most harmful and dangerous substances known to man was a most encouraging nugget. One of the key reasons why the DEA denied several appeals to reschedule cannabis is a lack of evidence that marijuana is medically effective. To find evidence, you need research. The DEA now admits that more and better cannabis is needed for research — and, the DEA insisted in a July 25 memo from Acting DEA Chief Chuck Rosenberg, published in the federal register, the DEA supports that research. And it wants you — yes, you — to apply to grow some of it… which is where the fun begins.
For 50 years, there has been a government monopoly on the supply of cannabis available to researchers: It all comes from a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)-approved lab at the University of Mississippi. Other researchers have applied to grow cannabis for research; all have been denied. But baked into the Controlled Substances Act that classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug — as bad for you and as dangerous as heroin and LSD, and more harmful than cocaine and methamphetamine — is the provision that the government must provide an “adequate and uninterrupted supply” of those drugs, including marijuana. And, the DEA admitted on Thursday, the supply is no longer adequate.
“For most of the nearly 50 years that this single marijuana grower arrangement has been in existence, the demand for research-grade marijuana in the United States was relatively limited — and the single grower was able to meet such limited demand,” the agency wrote in an announcement published in the Federal Register today. “However, in recent years, there has been greater public interest in expanding marijuana-related research, particularly with regard to certain chemical constituents in the plant known as cannabinoids.”
To that end, the DEA is allowing anyone and everyone — including enterprises that produce cannabis commercially — to apply for a license to grow. Applicants will need to agree on some strict rules, including that cannabis grown for research purposes can only be sold to approved researchers, and only with written DEA approval.
However, there’s an enormous catch, especially if you grow cannabis in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. Which, if you grow cannabis at all, applies to you.
“[A]mong the factors to be considered are whether the applicant has previous experience handling controlled substances in a lawful manner and whether the applicant has engaged in illegal activity involving controlled substances,” the DEA wrote. “In this context, illegal activity includes any activity in violation of the CSA (regardless of whether such activity is permissible under state law) as well as activity in violation of state or local law.”
In other words: the DEA says it wants experienced growers who know how to create a research-grade product to apply to grow for the government… but experience growing, a violation of federal law, could make the applicant ineligible.
At least one researcher questioned the DEA’s logic.
“Why would anyone take a gamble in trying to meet all of these requirements had they not had prior experience with growing!?” asked Dr. Sue Sisley, the lead researcher on the DEA-approved study to investigate the efficacy of cannabis on vets with PTSD. “And, honestly, who would hire someone who hadn’t had experience? Catch 22.”
The DEA is also trying to shift some of the blame for a lack of research away — and it may have a point.
“Funding may actually be the most important factor in whether research with marijuana (or any other experimental drug) takes place,” the DEA wrote, noting that the biggest spike in applications to study cannabis came in 1999, after the California Legislature created — and funded, to the tune of $9 million — the Medical Cannabis Research Program.
That state funding led to several studies, but, as the DEA noted, “it appears that once the State stopped funding the research, the studies ended.”
Sisley’s study followed a similar path: it relied on another public grant, $2 million from the Colorado state Department of Health.
If cannabis’s outlaw status is a supply and demand problem — as in funding to meet the demand — it will take more than an expanded DEA supply to fix.