DEA will finally start approving cannabis cultivation licenses

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On Friday, May 13, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informed a handful of companies about its plans to finally approve cannabis grow applications. 

A revised rule change proposal was released by the Administration last year. Based on details of those amended rules, pushing ahead with licensing approvals is essential to ensure that a backlog of applications are reviewed, as well as to address issues pertaining to international treaties.

The latest news means that applicants who’ve been anxiously waiting to become federally authorized cannabis manufacturers for scientific research purposes can now have their requests reviewed.

“DEA is nearing the end of its review of certain [cannabis] grower applications, thereby allowing it to soon register additional entities authorized to produce [cannabis] for research purposes,” reads an official statement from the DEA

News of the DEA’s plans to accept applications for new manufacturers was first released under President Barack Obama. The Trump administration saw no approvals take place. As one of the first cannabis-focused efforts to emerge from the Biden administration, the DEA’s news demonstrates major progress for the industry at large.

“Pending final approval, DEA has determined, based on currently available information, that a number of manufacturers’ applications to cultivate [cannabis] for research needs in the United States appears to be consistent with applicable legal standards and relevant laws. DEA has, therefore, provided a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to these manufacturers as the next step in the approval process,” the DEA added.

University of Mississippi operates the only approved facility for research-grade cannabis cultivation 

Up until the DEA recently made its announcement about cannabis grow license applications, just one facility had received approval to cultivate the plant for research purposes — the University of Mississippi. The educational institution has been operating the country’s only approved facility for the best part of half a century. 

Shortly after a 2019 lawsuit was filed against the DEA by the Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI), a federal court judge ruled that the agency ought to release the brakes on the cultivation license application review process. 

The suit contested that the quality of university-grown weed is below par and does not mirror the variation of commercially-sold products on the market. Because of this, the cannabis was deemed unsuitable for clinical studies. However, the legal argument was dismissed once a status update was provided by the DEA; something that led to the licensing approvals being delayed further. 

Another suit was filed against the DEA by the SRI in March. That particular legal fight alleged that the agency wrongly used a “secret” document to rationalize its delay in approving manufacturer applications. The SRI’s Dr. Sue Sisley has since taken steps towards completing a DEA-requested MOA “so that it can be executed and official.”

DEA has informed cannabis research manufacturer applicants about legal standards and relevant laws

Currently, it remains uncertain as to how many organizations have been enlightened by the DEA so far. However, on Friday, May 14, the SRI, the Biopharmaceutical Research Company (BRC) and Groff NA Hemplex LLC were informed that their requests had received conditional approval by the agency.

Chief executive officer (CEO) of the BRC, George Hodgin, announced in a press release that the federal license will change the course of his company’s business and the medicinal cannabis industry as a whole; once things have been finalized.

“The DEA’s leadership will set off a nationwide wave of innovative cannabis-derived treatments, unlock valuable intellectual property and create high quality American jobs,” said Hodgin, adding that, “the BRC team is already familiar with DEA compliance procedures based on our extensive history of controlled substances activity, and our world class staff is ready to hit the ground running on this new business arm that the DEA has authorized.”

According to the DEA, applicants who meet legal requirements have been provided with an MOA that outlines how the DEA will collaborate with applicant(s) to deal with cannabis distribution, packaging, production and storage as per the new regulations, in addition to various other pertinent legal standards and relevant laws.

“To the extent these MOAs are finalized, DEA anticipates issuing DEA registrations to these manufacturers,” the agency is quoted as saying. “Each applicant will then be authorized to cultivate [cannabis] – up to its allotted quota – in support of the more than 575 DEA-licensed researchers across the nation.”

The DEA added that it will keep prioritizing efforts to assess any outstanding applications for cannabis research licenses and will publicly release information in the future about completed approvals.