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Federal Pot Farm Selection in Process

A meter is inserted into a pot containing a cannabis plant in a federal pot farm.
Photo by Coleen Whitfield


Federal Pot Farm Selection in Process

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which has overseen the production of cannabis for federally-approved research since 1968, is currently in the process of selecting the winning bid for a new manufacturer of cannabis. As the exclusive supplier of federal pot and a wing of the National Institutes of Health, the institute acts as a cultivator and distributor of the medicine along with University of Mississippi (UM) and is under the supervision of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

The cultivators at Ole Miss have worked “under a competitive contract with the NIDA,” says the National Center for Natural Products Research at UM, “supplying high-quality marijuana and its constituents to the NIDA Drug Supply Program, which provides them to researchers studying their harmful and beneficial effects.”

The facility at UM – ironically in the heart of the conservative South in Oxford, Mississippi  –  has held that contract for over 50 years, acting as the sole U.S. provider of marijuana for all scientific and medical researchers nationwide.

The open request for proposal (RFP) for a new federal cannabis provider (posted at, details the scope of tasks to be performed as “production, analysis, and distribution of cannabis and related materials,” including the extraction of concentrates, checking of purity levels and the distribution of cannabis cigarettes as required by NIDA, among other responsibilities.

Criteria for the selected party reads like a laundry list of bureaucratic hoops, including the ability to possess a “current DEA registration for Schedules II to V substances and demonstrate the capability to obtain DEA registration for Schedule I controlled substances including marijuana and its active and non-active constituents.”

Parties must also possess “12 acres of outdoor growing space, a 1,000 square foot indoor growing facility and a secure vault to maintain an inventory of approximately 400 to 700 kilograms of marijuana stock, cannabis extract and its drug dosage form, marijuana cigarettes, and its active and inactive constituents under controlled conditions.”

Due to the federal government’s classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug – meaning it’s viewed as a substance with no medical value along with ecstasy, LSD and heroin – it’s unlikely that other such federally sponsored facilities will be created anytime soon to further the progress of medical cannabis research. Some scientists are even dubious that the feds will ever award the contract to anyone but the University of Mississippi.

Lyle Craker, a University of Massachusetts Amherst plant scientist who struggled for years to gain permission to grow marijuana for research, says in an interview with U.S. News & World Report that it’s unlikely anyone other than University of Mississippi stands a chance.

“They do this every five years,” says Craker of the NIDA solicitation. “If I thought there was any chance at all, we would apply. Do I think there’s any chance at all? No.”

In 2007, Craker won the endorsement of DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner for his proposal to open a second stream of pot for research, but the DEA’s then-Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart spiked the idea days before President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

According to NIDA, the number and names of the institutions and organizations that submitted proposals for the 2014 RFP is “procurement-sensitive information and is not available to the public.”

The period for receipt of proposals in response to the RFP closed November 2014 and the agency “is currently evaluating proposals and anticipates that an award decision will be published at FedBizOpps on or around March 2015.”

Would you grow cannabis for the federal government? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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