On July 25, a bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators published a letter they sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding the status of twenty-six applications to grow marijuana for research purposes. The letter begins: “We write to encourage you to finalize your review of applications submitted to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for licenses to manufacture marijuana for scientific research.”

The letter goes on to point out that, for decades, only the University of Mississippi has had a license to grow marijuana for research purposes, even as demand for additional research has increased. The letter notes that the DEA “submitted a notice in the Federal Register on August 11, 2016” asking for additional applications for research, and that twenty six applications have been filed, but no approvals have been issued in the intervening years. The letter then quotes the attorney general himself as saying that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was “moving forward” on the applications and that “we will add, fairly soon…additional suppliers.”

While the letter does not accuse Sessions of foot-dragging, it does request that he answer five questions about the status of the applications. The first three are:

  1. What is the current status of the twenty-six marijuana manufacturer applications?
  2. What steps have both the DEA and DOJ taken to review the twenty-six marijuana manufacturer applications currently pending?
  3. By what date do you estimate the DEA will have completed its review of the twenty-six marijuana applications and commence registration of new marijuana manufacturers?

The next question addresses an international treaty known as the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, to which the United States is a signatory. Although the treaty prohibits production of a list of “narcotic” drugs, including marijuana, it also allows for medical research into those drugs, so long as the research is done under license. In April, in testimony before the Senate, Sessions cited the treaty as a legal obstacle to increased research. After saying how the DOJ was “moving forward” and would issue licenses “fairly soon,” Sessions said: “but there is, a lot of people didn’t know, I didn’t know, a treaty, an international treaty of which we are a member, that requires certain controls in that process, and the previous proposal violated that treaty. We’ve now gotten the language I believe complies with the treaty, and will allow this process to go forward.” As a conservative think tank, the Cato Institute, put it, however, the claim that the Single Convention blocks marijuana research is “simply untrue.”

The July 25 letter’s remaining two questions address the treaty:

  1. Please share DOJ’s analysis of the Single Convention and if the opinion of the Justice Department is the same or similar to that of the DEA’s.
  1. If there are legal barriers to licensing multiple schedule 1 marijuana manufacturers under the Single Convention, please identify and explain them.

The fourth question addresses the issue that, as far as the senators can tell, it is not the DEA but the DOJ that is responsible for the delay in approving additional research applications. The fifth question clearly implies that the senators have doubts that there are any remaining legal obstacles to new research.

The following eight senators signed the letter: Brian Schatz, Chuck Grassley, Cory Gardner, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Christopher Coons, Orrin Hatch, and Tim Kaine. Of the states represented by the senators, only two—Virginia and Utah—do not have some form of legalization beyond the limited use of CBD.

What do you think? Will Jeff Sessions stop dragging his feet and approve more medical marijuana research? Leave a comment below.

About the Author: Eric Howard

Eric Howard, who lives in Los Angeles, is a staff writer for Marijuana and the Law. His most recent book, Taliban Beach Party, appeared in 2017.

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