Nabil Rodriguez, Esq. & Kristen Morris, Esq.
On August 26, 2019, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (the “DEA”) filed a notice regarding pending applications from entities applying to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. Interestingly enough, this announcement comes days before the DEA is required under a federal court order to respond to a lawsuit concerning its inaction on a previously submitted application.
Pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 823(a)(1), the DEA is obligated to register only the number of manufacturers of a Schedule I controlled substance that is necessary to “produce an adequate and uninterrupted supply of these substances under adequately competitive conditions for legitimate medical, scientific, research, and industrial purposes.”
For over 50 years, the U.S. has relied on a single facility at the University of Mississippi as the source of federally authorized research-grade marijuana. Historically, because the demand for research-grade marijuana in the U.S. was relatively low, the U.S. Government considered the single marijuana grower arrangement sufficient to meet such a demand.
In August of 2016, the DEA issued a policy statement acknowledging the need to expand marijuana-related research with regard to certain cannabinoids by increasing the number of federally authorized marijuana growers. To achieve this result, the DEA developed a new approach to “allow additional marijuana growers to apply to become registered with the DEA.” Three years later, the DEA has 33 pending applications, with the most recent application submitted in May of 2019. To date, no application has been processed.
In the interest of public health, many believe that this announcement has been long overdue. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Northern Colorado demonstrated that “research-grade” marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi has a closer genetic affinity to hemp than with commercially available marijuana. Studies like these highlight the challenges for valid and accurate scientific and medical research that occur as a result of the current monopoly on federally authorized marijuana.
In an era where public and scientific interest in marijuana is at an all-time high, this announcement by the DEA may come as a step forward in overcoming the existing hurdles to marijuana research. This 2019 announcement, however, is not made with a specific timeline in mind. Instead, the DEA clarifies that they intend to promulgate regulations to govern the program of growing “marihuana for scientific and medical research under DEA registration.” Therefore, those applicants listed in the notice must continue to wait patiently until such regulations are promulgated.
In addition to moving forward with marijuana grower applications, the DEA also clarified that because the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp federally, those applicants that submitted a registration application for the cultivation of hemp were no longer required to obtain DEA registration, and “may respond in writing with a request to withdraw their applications.”
If you have questions regarding this announcement or applications to cultivate marijuana or hemp with the DEA, or if you have any questions with how this, or similar agency announcements, may affect your business, please contact a Greenspoon Marder attorney today.