Will Research Cannabis Be Freed in 2020?

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In August 2019, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced movement on its policy limiting US-based research cannabis cultivation solely to the University of Mississippi, after a federal court demanded that it explain a three-year delay in reviewing dozens of applications from potential new research-cannabis growers.

Any movement has not been rapid. Months later, the rule is still in its earliest stages of development, according to a statement presented by Matthew J. Straight, the senior policy advisor for the DEA’s Diversion Control Division, to a January 15 House of Representatives subcommittee hearing entitled “Cannabis Policy—For the New Decade.”

“In the near future, DEA intends to propose regulations that would govern persons seeking to become registered with DEA to grow marihuana as bulk manufacturers,” testified Straight, adding that a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) is under review by the Office of Management and Budget, one of the first stages of its development. The NPRM process was initiated back in November 2019.

If and when the NPRM is approved by the Office of Management and Budget, it will be published by the DEA in the Federal Register, the publication of the federal government, for a public review and comment period that would usually last 60 to 90 days. After that, the DEA will review the comments and finalize the new rule, at which point it will be published in the Federal Register.

The arrival of a new rule is much anticipated by some due to the limitations of the single existing grow site. “Although the University of Mississippi supplies cannabis for clinical trials, it does not have the capacity to manufacture a broad array of cannabis-derived formulations for research or to supply these cannabis products for commercial development,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, during her January 15 testimony.

She added that her agency was “pleased” to hear that the DEA would be taking steps towards lifting the monopoly on research cannabis production.

But whether this will happen in 2020 remains open to considerable doubt.

Photograph of a cannabis greenhouse by Cannabis Tours via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

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