DEA releases long-awaited regulations for research cannabis supply expansion

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A joyous occasion was celebrated by cannabis researchers in the United States last month, when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) published draft rules for the supply expansion of research-grade cannabis.

It’s been a tedious wait for researchers, who’ve been anticipating the announcement for four years; back when the Agency initially promised the expansion. The first round of public comment will now commence following the release of draft rules, which are titled: “Controls to Enhance the Cultivation of Marihuana for Research in the United States.”

The DEA’s primary goal of amending its research cannabis regulations is to comply with the requirements of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Comments can be submitted electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal or postmarked no later than May 22, 2020.

Overview of the DEA’s plan to expand cannabis research in the U.S.

The goal of the DEA’s proposed rules for research-grade cannabis cultivation is to broaden the pool of registered farmers. Consequently, this will ensure that scientists have a wider choice of cannabis to use in their research efforts. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was filed for public inspection on March 20, before being published in the Federal Register on March 23.

Included in the published information were details relating to the proposed process, such as the time period in which research-grade cannabis cultivators must sell their crop to the DEA. Based on the DEA’s plan to expand cannabis research in the U.S., the Agency requires growers to transfer their crops within a four-month timeframe once harvests are complete. This will grant growers adequate time to carry out the necessary production processes post-cultivation.

“The Drug Enforcement Administration continues to support additional research into [cannabis] and its components, and we believe registering more growers will advance the scientific and medical research already being conducted,” said DEA Acting Administrator Dhillon. “DEA is making progress to register additional [cannabis] growers for federally authorized research, and will continue to work with other relevant federal agencies to expedite the necessary next steps.”

Number of registered cannabis researchers has skyrocketed since beginning of Administration

The number of active researchers who are officially registered with the DEA for cannabis research swelled from 377 in January 2017 to 595 in March 2020, indicating a 58 percent increase. Scientists, once registered with the DEA, are legally able to conduct research into cannabis, cannabis extracts and cannabis derivatives.  

“The release of this framework is absolutely monumental and is the biggest, the most meaningful, and material progress made in federal cannabis policy in decades,” says CEO of the Biopharmaceutical Research Company and cultivation applicant, George Hodgin. “It opens up a path for traditional drug development in the United States.”

Currently, more than 70 percent of the Agency’s registered researchers are devoted to studying the green plant. Now that the four-year wait is over, the DEA can proceed with the reviewing of 37 pending applications to grow cannabis for research purposes.