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Advocates Call For Removal Of DEA From Cannabis Research Approval Process

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For many years the DEA has controlled which entities can conduct cannabis research in the United States. That has resulted in research being limited historically. More research is being conducted in the U.S. than years past, however, the situation is still far from optimal.

Considering how popular medical cannabis is in the U.S. and beyond, how many wellness properties the cannabis plant is known to possess, and how many more are yet to be discovered, it makes sense that cannabis research should be embraced rather than hindered. Unfortunately, the DEA’s involvement in the cannabis research approval process is holding things back.

Research in the United States benefits the global cannabis community, not just the U.S. Thankfully, advocates are making a big push to change the current situation. Below is a press release that was sent out today by our friends at the National Cannabis Industry Association:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) submitted comments this week in response to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Request for Information on Controls to Enhance the Cultivation of Marihuana for Research in the United States issued in March. The association argues that public health agencies are far better suited to determine the qualifications of parties engaged in medical or scientific research or production and recommends that the DEA be removed as the agency in charge of final approval for such applications. The comments also cite years-long delays in approving existing applications as additional justification for transferring control of application approval away from law enforcement, and point out several issues in the rule-making process that will likely hinder research.

The full comments are available here.

Despite publicly stating in 2016 that it was interested in expanding production of cannabis for research purposes and streamlining study application review, none of the more than 30 applications that have been submitted since then have been approved by DEA. Under current policy, there is only one legal federal supplier of cannabis located at the University of Mississippi. Researchers and experts have repeatedly claimed that the cannabis produced there is substandard, insufficient for research purposes, and not representative of what is available to consumers in either regulated or illicit markets around the country.

“It is painfully clear that the DEA is either unable or unwilling to meet the increasing demand for cannabis research from voters, policymakers, and the scientific community,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “By continuing to make this agency the gatekeeper for studies and research production, we are doing a disservice to the nation at a time when we need as much health-related information as possible. Federal agencies should be actively facilitating research that could reveal more about the medical benefits of cannabis, not hiding behind outdated policies to delay or discourage the pursuit of knowledge.”

In January, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing featuring representatives of federal agencies involved in approving cannabis research and production, including the DEA. Several members of the committee expressed frustration at the inability of witnesses to provide substantive information about how the process would be improved or timelines for approval of existing applications.

“On behalf of its nearly 2,000 members, NCIA hereby requests that these proposed regulations be amended and/or withdrawn… and that a qualified public health agency be appointed to serve as the coordinating agency instead,” the comments conclude. “We also request that the applicant pool be expanded to include companies that are or have cultivated cannabis in accordance with the laws of any state, regardless of whether the DEA concludes such actions did or did not technically violate the [Controlled Substance Act]. Most importantly, NCIA requests that the U.S. Government incentivize research and create a pathway for less restrictive means by which the country can access important information about the medicinal properties of cannabis.”

Cannabis is legal for adults in eleven states as well as the District of Columbia and the territories of CNMI and Guam, and 33 states as well as several territories have comprehensive medical cannabis laws. The substance is legal in some form in 47 states.


The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) is the largest cannabis trade association in the U.S. and the only organization broadly representing cannabis-related businesses at the national level. NCIA promotes the growth of a responsible and legitimate cannabis industry and works toward a favorable social, economic, and legal environment for that industry in the United States.