The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (D.E.A.) says it will be “moving forward to facilitate and expand scientific and medical research for marijuana,” allowing for additional federally-permitted cannabis cultivators.

Despite the Food and Drug Administration approving a CBD oral solution for epilepsy treatment in June 2018, cannabis still remains a tightly regulated substance at the federal level.

Some experts within the field feel this latest announcement serves to remedy the dearth of research U.S. regulatory agencies need to make informed decisions regarding cannabis.

“DEA is making progress in the program to register additional marijuana growers for federally authorized research, and will work with other relevant federal agencies to expedite the necessary next steps,” said DEA acting administrator, Uttam Dhillon.

“We support additional research into marijuana and its components, and we believe registering more growers will result in researchers having access to a wider variety for study.”

Josh Richard, director of cannabis services at the San Fransisco-based Arnesco Laboratories, said the DEA’s latest announcement is simply the first step towards broadening the research base for federal regulators to draw on.

“At this point, the majority of it was coming out of, I believe, the University of Mississipii. It’s pretty bad too. The material that people have seen has been all sticks and stems and mold,” he said.

Until recently, the University of Mississippi has been the only federally approved researcher in the U.S. under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

Richard said the release didn’t deliver anything “concrete” and that it wouldn’t immediately affect his company’s operations, but that the easing of regulations may give agencies like the USDA more data, the kind legislators need to pass a bill in the future.

“Over the last two years, the total number of individuals registered by DEA to conduct research with marijuana, marijuana extracts, derivatives and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has increased by more than 40 percent from 384 in January 2017 to 542 in January 2019.

Similarly, in the last two years, DEA has more than doubled the production quota for marijuana each year based on increased usage projections for federally approved research projects.”

–The U.S. Department of Justice

Farrah Quituqa at Brightside Scientific said organizations involved in cannabis testing, at least in California, report to a state-level agency, the Bureau of Cannabis Control, meaning this new pronouncement won’t materially affect her company’s business.

“In the testing world, absolutely not,” Quituqa said, “any of our R&D stuff does not get sent over to [the DEA] it’s only our compliance, and that’s what they’re interested in. But if people see the DEA isn’t as strict, I think people would be much more comfortable.”

Both Richard and Quituqa agree The United States is experiencing a general relaxation of cannabis drug laws.

With the signing of the Agriculture Improvement act of 2018, hemp (cannabis material with 0.3% or less THC content) no longer requires DEA registration to be grown or researched and the 2018 farm bill gave the federal go-ahead to industrial hemp growers across the country.

Both Tilray (TLRY.Q) and Canopy Growth (WEED.T) have been given leeway by U.S. regulators for exporting and researching cannabis for medical purposes in the past, though neither company saw much price action on today’s news, with Tilray down 0.3%.

The DEA is “providing notice of pending applications from entities applying to be registered to manufacture marijuana for researchers,” with plans to release the list of applicants tomorrow.

–Ethan Reyes

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Ethan Reyes

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Ethan Reyes
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