Justice Department Urged To Take “Immediate Action” On Marijuana Grow Applications

The American Psychological Association (APA) is urging US Attorney General William Barr to review more than two-dozen pending applications for federal marijuana grow licenses. In a letter dated Wednesday, February 27, the association urged the Justice Department to “act immediately” on 26 applications pending before federal officials – applications which were initially submitted to the agency over two years ago.

Currently, the sole federally licensed producer of cannabis for clinical research is the University of Mississippi. The University has held the exclusive license for more than four decades.

In August 2016, the US Drug Enforcement Administration announced in the US Federal Register that the agency was “adopting a new policy that is designed to increase the number of entities registered under the Controlled Substances Act to grow (manufacture) marijuana to supply legitimate researchers in the United States.” The agency said that the policy change was necessary because the existing system provided “no clear legal pathway for commercial enterprises to produce marijuana for product development.”

Last year, however, former DEA director Robert Patterson testified to Congress that the agency believed that approving additional applicants would likely violate international anti-drug treaties. Patterson said that DEA could not move forward granting any new applications until the Justice Department clarified the issue.

In its letter to the newly appointed Attorney General, APA CEO Arthur C. Evans urged the Department “to take immediate action on the existing pool of cannabis grower applications so that the United States scientific community can continue to expand the study of both the harmful and potential therapeutic effects of cannabis and its derivatives. … Without access to an expanded range of cannabis products engineered under FDA-approved Good Manufacturing Practices, scientific research cannot hope to keep pace with the ever expanding recreational and medicinal cannabis marketplace.” The APA represents nearly 120,000 researchers and clinicians.

Also on Wednesday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) asked US Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb whether he believed that it is possible for a US-based company to bring a marijuana plant-derived drug to market in light of the existing federal prohibitions on licensing. The Commissioner answered equivocally, stating “It depends.” He later acknowledged that these restrictions have led many “companies [to] go overseas to conduct research with foreign-grown product that is more easily sourced for the purposes of clinical trials.”

The longstanding federal prohibition on privately licensed cannabis producers exists despite a 2007 ruling by the DEA’s own administrative law judge striking down the ban as not “in the public interest.” Although that ruling ordered DEA to lift the ban, the agency failed to do so.

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Author: Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
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