Officials at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have been dragging their feet for three years on evaluating applications to lawfully grow cannabis for research purposes in the United States. Now, facing a court order to explain for the delays, the DEA has announced that policy updates are on their way in “the near”—if unspecified—future, in order to begin processing an “unprecedented” number of applicants.
For the past 50 years, only one entity, the University of Mississippi, has been permitted to grow for medical and scientific research the plant classified as Schedule I drug by the federal government—a class that, by definition, denies its medical value.
That doesn’t mean other parties haven’t been wanting in on the opportunity. Since the 2016 application opening, 33 entities have submitted applications—a number that “in DEA’s experience” is “unprecedented,” according to the agency’s August 26 announcement in the Federal Register.
As the applications continued to pile up, with the most recent one received in May 2019, the DEA conducted a years-long “policy review process” so as “to ensure that the marihuana growers program is consistent with applicable laws and treaties.” It did so without offering applicants like the Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) a notice of application—which the Attorney General is required by law to do within 90 days of receiving an application.
In a lawsuit filed in June 2019, SRI described this lapse in its amended petition as “agency action” being “unlawfully withheld.” Over a month later, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the DEA to file a response to the plaintiff’s amended petition by the end of August.
Although suggesting some movement, the announcement made clear that the applicants—including a diverse range of entities, from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville to the University of Massachusetts—still have a wait ahead of them before they can lawfully begin grow operations. Even after three years of review, the DEA’s policies still require “adjustments” in order “to fairly evaluate” the applications.
Specifically, the proposed regulations that have yet to be announced will address how applicants are selected “when the number of otherwise qualified applicants pending at a given time exceeds the number necessary to produce an adequate and uninterrupted supply of marijuana under adequately competitive conditions, consistent with applicable law,” a DEA spokesperson explained to Filter.
Unable to estimate an “exact timeline,” the DEA spokesperson said that the agency is “committed to working expeditiously to finalize the regulations and registering additional growers consistent with those regulations.”
“DEA is making progress in the program to register additional marijuana growers for federally authorized research, and will work with other relevant federal agencies to expedite the necessary next steps,” said DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon.
Photograph of a cannabis greenhouse by Cannabis Tours, via Wikimedia Commons