DEA to permit additional research of cannabis, but obstacles remain

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

The road to studying cannabis in the United States has not been without its speed bumps. However, efforts to simplify the process of cannabis research are progressing, mainly due to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) push to expand access to the plant for investigational purposes.

Back in 2016, the DEA announced that it would start accepting applications from growers who wish to supply cannabis for research efforts. Although the Agency is yet to approve any of the 30+ applications it has received, things finally appear to be moving in the right direction.

An undisclosed number of qualified applicants received a “memorandum of agreement” (MOA) on May 14. Should those growers agree to the terms laid out in the MOA, limited amounts of cannabis could be grown to support DEA-licensed researchers.

About the DEA’s Memorandum of Agreement

The MOA clarifies how those growers can produce research-based cannabis in compliance with federal laws and regulations. Specific rules must still be hashed out before producers can begin growing. 

Recipients include: 

  • Groff North America in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, 
  • Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona. 
  • Biopharmaceutical Research Co. (BRC) in Castroville, California.

The news of the DEA issuing an MOA to growers marks a milestone moment for cannabis research in the U.S., where just one cultivator, the University of Mississippi, is currently licensed with the federal government to yield the plant for legal scientific research purposes.

Cannabis research stifled in spite of sweeping legislation

Despite the rapid pace of cannabis legalization across the U.S., research efforts have failed to keep up. As of 2021, approximately one-third of Americans reside in a cannabis-friendly location. Nonetheless, members of the scientific community are still pretty clueless about cannabis’ therapeutic efficacy and overall safety.

Although the DEA’s announcement is a major step forwards, numerous obstacles are hindering the progression of cannabis research in the U.S.  Cannabis’ illegal federal status means that the plant is bound by strict federal regulations; particularly federally-funded institutions, such as public universities.

In the event that such institutions ignore the rules and begin supplying cannabis for research purposes, they risk losing their precious funding and could be further penalized by the federal government for breaching instructions.

On the bright side, with the DEA issuing a MOA to cultivators, there’s a good chance that more researchers will soon be able to carry out studies using cannabis cultivators. As a result of this, American cannabis consumers would benefit from greater product diversity and more knowledge on the plant in the foreseeable future.