For the past fifty years, the only approved facility with a government authorization to produce cannabis for research purposes was the one operated by the University of Mississippi. Therefore, any researcher who wanted to legally conduct a study could only use these facilities. But the days of this monopoly are numbered since the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the federal government agency to enforce drug laws and control in the US, recently announced the approval of new licenses to grow cannabis for research purposes.
Since the DEA announced five years ago that they would accept new license applications from additional manufacturing companies, no approvals had yet been made ever since, but the agency has finally revealed new licensing agreements. At least three of the applicant companies, the Biopharmaceutical Research Company (BRC), the Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) and Groff NA Hemplex LLC, are known to have been notified by the agency that their applications were accepted and pending only the final approval, although the total number of new federal authorizations to be awarded has not been provided.
This significant change in the DEA policy on granting licenses coincides in time with Biden's proposal to appoint a new director general for the government Drug Agency. The candidate is Anne Milgram, former attorney general of New Jersey, who in 2009 was in favor of the medical cannabis program that was being studied in that state at that time. Despite the fact the appointee has not made any public statement on this matter, her support to this regulation might be interpreted as a positive indicator for those defending the final regulation of cannabis at a federal level in the United States, since the DEA continues to most influential government agency on matters relating to drug control in the US.
For the scientific community, this is an important advance since cannabis research has not managed to keep up with the legalization prospects so far, since current regulations only allowed one production facility, which has hindered research during decades. In this new period, the main obstacle companies will need to face is the inability to research and study cannabis products that are marketed outside the control of the licensed production facilities, which represents most of the cannabis that Americans actually consume. This has been, so far, one of the recurring complaints among scientists researching cannabis in this country, as cannabis produced under federal authorization is, in their own words, “more similar to hemp than the marijuana that consumers actually use in the real world". This is a challenge and an issue in clinical research, since this poor-quality marijuana does not reflect the wide range of products accessible to the public in the market.
The advantages of ending the monopoly on medical cannabis research include the development of new cannabis-derived treatments, the liberalization of intellectual property patents for valuable research studies, and the creation of high-quality jobs.
From now on, the legalization process will be made possible only with the joint work done by the DEA and the new applicants complying with the legal requirements, so that they can set a safe framework of standards for the entire production chain, from cultivation, storage and packaging to distribution and marketing, that will easily adapt to any eventual new regulation, guideline or standard established by law. Applicants will be able to grow marijuana according to an assigned quota. Currently, there are almost 600 researchers in the US licensed by the DEA who will benefit from access to newly produced cannabis after this regulatory change.