A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers urged the US Department of Justice to allow researchers to study cannabis sourced from state-legal dispensaries.
Lawmakers of both parties from across the House and Senate sent a letter at the beginning of this month to request the policy change on the recommendation of federal health agencies, who claim that current regulations have greatly restricted new research into the benefits and risks of cannabis.
Currently, there is only one federally authorized producer of marijuana for research purposes, located at the University of Mississippi. The lawmakers said that there is simply not enough to meet the needs of the cannabis research community and, what’s more, the marijuana grown there is notorious for its poor quality.
A recent study found that marijuana grown at this facility shared more similarities with hemp than cannabis typically available in state-legal retailers.
But as the law stands, researchers are prohibited by the Justice Department from obtaining cannabis from other sources, such as dispensaries.
“[T]he status quo does not address a barrier to research raised by both [the National Institutes of Health] and [the Food and Drug Administration],” the letter states.
“Both agencies recommended that researchers should be able to obtain cannabis from state-legal sources,” the lawmakers added.
The letter’s chief proponents, Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), urged the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to amend their policies to fit with the times.
The DEA has dragged its heels on the issue of expanding access to cannabis for researchers. Three years ago, they announced that they would accept applications for additional cannabis growers, but there has yet to be a single manufacturer approved.
The inaction has even led a coalition of scientists to recently file a lawsuit against the agency.
The DEA took a different line recently, saying that they need to develop alternative rules before they can approve submitted applications.
The lawmakers identify another problem with current federal policy, namely that research into marijuana which is dependent on a single source of cannabis is less robust and reliable.
“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” the letter states.
“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions,” the lawmakers wrote.
The bipartisan coalition, comprising 21 members of Congress, put forward two proposals to deal with the problem.
First, they recommend allowing “researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state authorized dispensaries for research purposes.”
Second, they recommend the DEA issues guidance to make clear that researchers do not require a license to access and study hemp, as the plant was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
The lawmakers asked the DEA to respond by December 20.
“Our nation’s cannabis research laws are archaic,” Rouda said in a press release. “Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products.”
“I thank Senator Schatz, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for joining me to make this common-sense request,” he added.
This isn’t the first letter of this nature to fall on the Attorney General’s desk. Last year, when Jeff Sessions was in post, a bipartisan group of senators submitted five questions to the attorney general on expanding the number of federally authorized growers. The new coalition will be hoping for more action on the issue this time around. Their letter can be read in full on Rep. Rouda’s website.