The US Drug Enforcement Administration cleared the air around cannabis Monday, reaffirming its plans to expand cannabis research and confirming that some products containing the popular cannabis-derived component cannabidiol (CBD) are now legal.
Three years ago, the agency said it wanted to expand cannabis research by letting more entities grow marijuana. Right now, there’s only one approved grower—the University of Mississippi. It has had an exclusive deal to be the federal government’s cannabis supplier for more than 50 years.
With the recent boom in cannabis products and legalization by states, federally-funded researchers have been clamoring for more cannabis products than Ole Miss can supply, particularly products that resemble those that patients and consumers can buy at dispensaries. In August 2016, the DEA said it would oblige and began accepting applications from entities to be new growers.
But little has changed since then. The agency has collected 33 applications but has yet to process any of them, according to Reuters. One applicant, the Arizona-based Scottsdale Research Institute, got so frustrated that it asked a federal court earlier this year to step in and compel the agency to move on the applications. In doing so, it referred to the existing Ole Miss supply as “sub-par.”
Today, the DEA finally announced that it is “moving forward” and “providing notice of pending applications from entities applying to be registered to manufacture marijuana for researchers.”
In the announcement, DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon said specifically:
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. 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.
But there’s a catch. Before the agency will approve any of the applications, it says it wants to roll out new rules to evaluate and oversee any potential new growers. “The new rules will help ensure DEA can evaluate the applications under the applicable legal standard and conform the program to relevant laws,” the DEA explained. When the DEA will give any applicant a green light remains unclear.
In the meantime, the DEA took the opportunity to point out that some cannabis products are now legal and no longer in need of DEA authorization to grow or make.
As Ars has noted before, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 changed the federal definition of marijuana to exclude hemp, a strain of cannabis that contains CBD but has low levels of the psychoactive cannabinoid Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which gives cannabis-users a “high.”
As such, hemp and hemp-derived CBD preparations that have 0.3% THC or less are not controlled substances, the DEA confirmed. “DEA registration is not required to grow or research” them.
The confirmation will be good news to the CBD industry, which has exploded recently. But any manufacturers making health claims about the CBD-containing products will still receive scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration. Additionally, individual state laws and restrictions may apply.