Almost a year after the Drug Enforcement Administration announced it would consider granting additional licenses to cultivate cannabis for research purposes — and despite drawing 25 applicants so far — the agency has yet to greenlight a new grow operation.

The DEA says it does not have a timeline to approve or deny applications and noted that it is dealing with a new review process. All applicants remain under review and none has been rejected, said Katherine Pfaff, a DEA spokeswoman.

But the lag has allowed critics of the agency to argue that the announcement was a public relations ploy and that the DEA remains dug in against marijuana research. And, they say, the signals from the Trump administration, particularly Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s embrace of a tough-on-drugs ethos, leave them doubting the agency will ever approve another grower.


“What has progressed with the DEA over the past year? Nothing,” said Rachel Gillette, an attorney at Greenspoon Marder in Colorado, who specializes in marijuana policy. “I would be surprised if we had another conversation in five years and they had granted another license.”

The DEA has been pressed to liberalize its policies on cannabis research in recent years, with scientists and others arguing that there’s a growing need for evidence-based research at a time when more people have started self-treating their diseases with marijuana. Experts warn there is little rigorous research validating marijuana as a medicine and that cannabis-based products are often unregulated.

“There are lots of constituents in marijuana besides the material that makes you happy,” said Lyle Craker, who studies medicinal plants at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and who has applied for a license. “We need to investigate those to gain full insight into the plant so we know what’s going on when we tell people what to use and what not to use. We need some basis.”

For decades, the only sanctioned source of marijuana available for U.S. research has been the University of Mississippi, which has an exclusive contract with the federal government. But scientists say the quantity and variety of cannabis produced there isn’t sufficient.

Many advocates for cannabis research heralded the DEA’s announcement last August that it would consider tapping new growers.

Craker submitted his application in February, after working with a nonprofit called the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, and received follow-up questions from the DEA the next month. Craker responded to the questions on April 12, and he said he has not heard anything since.

“What is their policy?” Craker said. “They’re saying they’re open to research, but they don’t allow any.”

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a doctor who supports easing restrictions on marijuana research, said a pharmaceutical company in his district has also applied for a license and that he has been in touch with the DEA to check on the status of the application.

But beyond that, a number of policy experts and advocates said they were not sure who else had applied. Pfaff, the DEA spokeswoman, said she could not discuss who has applied, or say whether they include academics, pharmaceutical companies, or growers in states with legal medicinal or recreational marijuana. It’s also unknown how many of the 25 applicants are worth serious consideration.

The DEA announcement last August came at the same time the agency ruled that marijuana would remain a Schedule 1 drug, defined as having a high potential for abuse and no medical value. Some scientists have long chafed at marijuana’s classification — which it shares with heroin and some hallucinogens — because it forces them to go through a series of security and regulatory hurdles before they’re permitted to study it.

Harris and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) are planning to introduce a bill this year that would ease some restrictions on scientists seeking to study marijuana. The two congressmen, who pushed a similar bill last Congress, are seen as a bit of an odd couple: Harris is a conservative who has fought legalizing recreational marijuana, while Blumenauer is one of the legalization movement’s top advocates in Congress.

But they agree that, even as more states legalize marijuana, experts still don’t fully understand if and how cannabis can be used as a legitimate medicine, and in what ways it might be harmful. The answers to those questions will only come with more scientific research, they say.

“If Andy and I can come together on this, it indicates how strong the consensus is that we should move forward,” Blumenauer said. “I am just shocked that [the DEA is] so frozen in time at a time when everybody who has their wits about them agrees we need to make research easier.”

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  • It does really matter how long they stall. The rest of the world including Canada and Isreal will continue Cannabis research without the US.

  • You have covered this topic beautifully I could not possibly add or take away from anything you have just said. It’s indeed corrupt politics ran by a bunch of alcohol abusers

  • This article reeks of shill. The ‘needs more research’ is a resoundingly false and grossly misleading argument. It’s a facade; a run around to never actually get anywhere. Cannabis (which is the proper name of the plant, not ‘marijuana,’ a propoganda phrase and tactic to stigmatize and demonize a benign flower, to make it sound foreign and scary) is one of the most studied and consumed plants for thousands of years, with no deaths or “harmful” effects recorded. It is well established in empirical, traditional medicine.

    Even in recent conventional academia, and even with all this red tape from prohibition, the medical and scientific literature is overwhelming, and it is absurd to claim the research just isn’t there. It’s here, its abroad like in Isreal and so forth, but the sheer number of unbiased/unbought studies show what we already knew and experience first hand without any need of so called ‘experts’ to validate that for us – that cannabis is a medicine. That it’s unquestionably a versatile panacea. That millions get safe and effective relief and remission for their various ailments. Certainly no ‘ifs’ ‘ands’ or ‘hows’ about it for those that suffer horrible debilitating diseases and chronic pain and know only this medicine helps where all those other big pharma pills couldn’t. Where those pills ACTUALLY DO in fact have very real harms and millions are left either dead, addicted or worse off than before or if they had opted for a natural remedy like cannabis instead.

    How about you write about that? The real dangers and systematic harm from pharmaceuticals that are minimally checked for safety by the FDA, or just outright neglect to evaluate the risks, nay report on them at all. Even more atrocious, knowing there are serious risks and likely harms, yet approve the pills anyway. That the studies are fraudulently and outrageously bought and then marketed as safe and legitimate in medical journals and commercials, that it is a common despicable practice. That there are obvious conflicts of interest, corruption, suppression, and revolving door between gov and big pharma. That doctors are basically bribed and dined to prescribe new products. That it is a pandemic, a leading cause of death is from pharmaceuticals or doctor errors. People are being misdiagnosed and over prescribed dangerous stacks of untested synthetics in droves like candy. That the government itself holds and grants patents / rights on the medical applications of synthetic cannabinoids, while somehow simultaneously holding onto the asinine claim that cannabis has no medical value. That marinol, a synthetic thc pharmaceutical is legal to sell and prescribe as medicine even though cannabis isn’t, even though it’s not tolerated by the body like whole plant cannabis is with all the synergistic cannabinoids/terpines. Or how about the pesky fact that alcohol, cigarettes, pills, hell even coffee and fast food are obviously abused very seriously to great detriment, not just ‘potentially,’ yet that is somehow accepted as okay.. such great irony. The truly sad thing is that i could go on, there’s no end to the fuckery and how much we’ve been bamboozled.

    It’s very apparent the whole thing with the DEA is a pr ploy and yet another delay tactic, as is their ‘new review process.’ Just as Nixon censored research that didn’t align with his agenda and fired those that reported the truth.

    My main issue with this article is this.. it tows the establishment line and regurgitates the same old tired crap that something is only legitimate if the self proclaimed experts or officials say it is. They somehow get off on belittling the collective direct experience of millions going back thousands of years, demeaning it by saying it’s ‘self medicating’ (as though we can’t know our own bodies like those “experts” can) or dismissing it as not being rigorous, clinical, or ‘evidence’ based because they think, or want us to think, only they have the final say on it’s legitimacy, only they can research or approve research, only they can find out for you if it can be helpful. Such hubris, such bullshit.

    To suggest in any way that cannabis isnt medicine is despicable. To deny it requires an astounding level of either sadistic dishonesty, absolute ignorance, or sociopathic / apathetic arrogance that dismisses everyone that has suffered from cancer patients to kids with seizures to people with everyday pains.

    • I couldn’t of said it better. We were once a free country. Now the goverment would regulate the air we breath if they could and charge for it. This wonderful plant is also known as gom gods own medicine. How arrogant for mankind to outlaw plants in their natural form. The dea is pretty much worthless accountable to no one it would seem. It’s a greedy goverment agency along with Nida. They see dollor signs and are puppets of a tyrannical regime of politicians and goverment advisors who base their views on personal belief not actual facts I have relatives just like that…

    • If the government is really concerned for our well being, then why are they poisoning our atmosphere, food, water, soil, in general basically everything we use? And why are we the people sitting by and doing nothing? They tried to schedule I Kratom last year. It is a plant related to the coffee plant with many health benefits. It ha been used for thousands of years to treat opiate withdrawal. It works. It is not an opiate. It’s chemistry fools our opiate receptors in our brain to believe that they are full. An addict needs a dose a day for 7 to 10 days and then stop. No they are not then addicted to Kratom. People should know about this miracle plant as well as cannabis. If desperate addicts knew this existed there would be a lot of success and people can easily get there lives back. The government was unable to make it schedule I due to extreme public outcry. Please tell everyone you can about Kratom for opiate addiction. It is legal in most states currently. Imagine having your life back no longer a slave to your addiction. The government wants ignorance, illness, lower population and higher profits. Think for yourselves.

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