DEA Proposes Increase to Research-Grade Cannabis Supply, Again

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The Drug Enforcement Administration is proposing to increase the amount of cannabis that can be grown for research in 2020 by almost a third over 2019’s level, and almost triple what the DEA proposed in 2018. 

“This will meet the need created by the increase in the amount of approved research involving marijuana,” DEA spokesperson Mary Brandenberger told Cannabis Wire

Over the last two years, the total number of people registering with the DEA to conduct research has surged. Researchers seeking to study cannabis, its extracts, derivatives, and THC has risen more than 40%, Brandenberger said, from 384 in January 2017, to 542 in January 2019. 

Cannabis is both expensive and difficult for scientists to study because the plant remains in Schedule I (with the exception of hemp, which is low THC cannabis). Meanwhile, in both state-regulated markets and the illicit market, potency of cannabis is increasing, and cannabis products are evolving — all while the quality of the federal supply has remained largely unchanged. 

Mahmoud ElSohly at the only approved federal cannabis research farm at Ole Miss, which he has overseen for decades.

For decades, the only place where it’s been federally legal to grow cannabis for research purposes has been at the federal farm at the University of Mississippi. As Cannabis Wire recently reported, last month the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it would soon propose new regulations for the cultivation of cannabis for scientific and medical research. It would do so, the DEA said, before responding to pending applications from entities that have long been seeking approval to grow the plant for those purposes. 

Even with an increased supply, the process to receive research approval and research-grade cannabis remains cumbersome. Sue Sisley, who leads the Scottsdale Research Institute in Florida, previously told Cannabis Wire about feeling like she’s running into walls while just trying to do her work. This past May, Sisley spoke during the Food and Drug Administration’s hearing on cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds. 

Sisley said that the Institute’s next clinical trial will study smoked cannabis flower, in comparison to fentanyl, for pain relief in cancer patients. When speaking to the FDA, Sisley mentioned a study that she and her colleagues recently finished, which examines four varieties of cannabis for military veterans with PTSD. 

The study, she said, took her team ten years to complete, all because of “excessive layers of government red tape.”

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