Two years ago, federal drug authorities said they would consider licensing new suppliers of marijuana grown for scientific purposes, a move seen as an acknowledgment of the need for additional rigorous research into potential medical uses and risks of cannabis and its components.

Hope you weren’t holding your breath.

The Drug Enforcement Administration still has not granted additional licenses for a grow operation, despite receiving more than two dozen applications in the year after it announced it was open to approving one. The agency told STAT it had stopped accepting new applications and referred additional questions about licenses to the Justice Department, which did not return requests for comment.

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It’s not clear whether any progress is being made toward approving another purveyor. The Washington Post reported last year that the Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, had stopped the DEA from approving an application to cultivate cannabis. Since then, however, Sessions has indicated some willingness to proceed in response to questions from lawmakers.

“It’d be healthy to have some more competition in the supply, but I’m sure we don’t need 26 new suppliers,” he said in October 2017, referring to the number of applicants.

And in April, he told senators: “We are moving forward, and we will add, fairly soon I believe – the paperwork and reviews will be completed – and we will add additional suppliers of marijuana under controlled circumstances.”

The lag has fueled a sense that the Trump administration isn’t serious about green-lighting more grow operations. Sessions is seen as a firm opponent of any sort of marijuana policy liberalization. So while scientists and advocates celebrated the initial August 2016 announcement from the DEA, many have since said they’re resigned to not seeing another license granted.

Lawmakers and scientists say that more research is needed to determine whether marijuana can be used as a legitimate medicine, which individual components might have therapeutic potential, and what harms cannabis can cause. They say that the importance of scientific scrutiny is only growing as more states legalize marijuana recreationally and medically. (Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.)

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Already, scientists can and do study marijuana. Once they’re cleared by authorities to conduct such research — a process that involves security checks and that scientists call unnecessarily onerous — they can get a supply of the plant from the University of Mississippi, which for decades has been the sole site allowed to grow marijuana. Many researchers, however, argue that the supply and variety provided by the Mississippi facility limit their scientific endeavors, though the head of the Mississippi facility disputes that claim.

Lawmakers from both major parties have been pressing the administration to move forward, efforts that have set up some political odd couples. Bipartisan bills from some of the most conservative and liberal members of Congress have been introduced in both the House and Senate to try to bulldoze some of the obstacles that stand in the way of studying marijuana. And in April, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wrote to Sessions asking that the administration decide on all applications by Aug. 11 — the two-year mark of the DEA’s announcement.

All of this comes as the Food and Drug Administration last month approved the country’s first treatment made from marijuana.

The medicine, Epidiolex, was approved to treat two epileptic diseases and is made from cannabidiol, or CBD, a component of marijuana that does not make people high. The drug is not made from marijuana grown in the U.S. Instead, its maker, GW Pharmaceuticals, grows its specially bred plants in the United Kingdom.

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  • The article highlights the problem of lack of action at the DEA but misses the main problem about the NIDA monopoly. NIDA can only provide marijuana for academic research, not for commercial sales. FDA requires Phase 3 studies to be conducted with the exact same product that would be marketed if the Phase 3 studies prove safety and efficacy. Until the NIDA monopoly ends, no domestically produced marijuana can ever be made into an FDA-approved medicine. The US, AG Sessions, are giving away a major industry and lots of US jobs to foreign companies.

  • I do not feel that science has taken into account the projected health care cost of people who inhale marijuana smoke it. The cost 20 to 30 40 years from now all of the damage that will be done because of people being high all the time. The health care dollar will increase astronomically because, I will be paying more for taxes, my children will my grandchildren my great great grandchildren to take care of those people because of their sick habit. I think they should get their own health care and not be on welfare. I can barely go into a store or into a parking lot or drive on a street, to go to a store with out being assailed with the stench of marijuana. There is no where where I can drive or any of my friends can drive without that stench. I think scientific funds should be put in to how to have those people that choose to do that keep their stench out of my house and off of my property. They can do all they want but keep it out of my house and off of my property. Keep it out of my breathing space because I do not want to breathe inhale that. They have no right to pollute my breathing space!!!
    Their right to suck on that poison, stops where my right to breathe began!!!!

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