DEA Promises Progress on Federal Cultivation Applications, But Provides No Timetable for Action

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has once again pledged to take action to better facilitate clinical cannabis research.

According to the agency’s filing today in the Federal Register, the DEA “intends to promulgate regulations” to evaluate several dozen applications before it from private entities that wish to cultivate cannabis for FDA-approved research. However, this is not the first time the agency has made such a promise. In 2016, the DEA similarly announced the adoption of new rules to expand to supply of research-grade cannabis, but failed to take any further action.

“For the past three years, the DEA has failed to take any steps to follow through on its promise to facilitate clinical cannabis research, and today’s announcement makes it clear that this foot-dragging will continue,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. “According to the DEA’s filing, the agency has yet to even evaluate even one of the dozens of applications before it – many of which have been pending for more than two years, nor do they provide any timetable regarding when or if they ever will. In an era where public and scientific interest in the cannabis plant, particularly with regard to its therapeutic properties, has never been greater, and where patients in a majority of states are already using cannabis in compliance with state law, it is inexcusable that the DEA continues to take this ‘head-in-the-sand’ approach to this rapidly changing cultural and legal landscape.”

In June, one of the applicants seeking a DEA cultivation license – the Scottsdale Research Institute – filed a petition in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia seeking a writ of mandamus to order the DEA to comply with its 2016 policy, arguing that the agency has engaged in unreasonable delays. On July 29, the Appellate Court ordered the DEA to provide a written response to the filing within 30 days.

Since 1968, only the University of Mississippi has been federally licensed to engage in the growing of cannabis for FDA-approved clinical research. Scientists familiar with the product have consistently said that it is of inferior quality and fails to accurately reflect the types of marijuana varieties commercially available in legal states. Further, the University only provides scientists with the option to access herbal cigarette formulations of the plant, not concentrates, edibles, or extracts. Strains high in the compound cannabidiol (CBD) – a chemical of particular interest to many scientists – are also not currently available from the University.