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DEA to Expand the Number of Legal Marijuana Growers

Currently, only one facility can legally grow pot for federally backed research.

The federal government wants to grow its pool of marijuana manufacturers, who cultivate the crop for research purposes, to meet a dramatic increase in demand for pot-related testing and analysis.

The Drug Enforcement Agency still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning the government deems it to have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, but allows a certain amount to be grown each year to support federally approved research projects. DEA-approved marijuana production has more than doubled each year for the last two years, but on Tuesday the agency will formally post notices of new applications for more pot growers to get Uncle Sam’s stamp of approval. 

“I am pleased that DEA is moving forward with its review of applications for those who seek to grow marijuana legally to support research,” said Attorney General William Barr. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services and across the administration to improve research opportunities wherever we can.”

DEA has seen a 40% increase in the number of individuals registered with the agency to conduct marijuana research since 2017. Thirty-three growers currently have applications pending before DEA, a pool the agency called “unprecedented.” It said that registering more growers will help meet higher demand and boost the variety of marijuana available for research. 

“This should facilitate research, advance scientific understanding about the effects of marijuana, and potentially aid in the development of safe and effective drug products that may be approved for marketing by the Food and Drug Administration,” DEA wrote in its Federal Register posting

Currently, researchers must receive marijuana from a single approved grower at a National Institute of Drug Abuse contracted facility at the University of Mississippi. Researchers have complained that the current structure is overly onerous for receiving a sufficient amount of the plant. DEA first announced its intention to move beyond the single-grower system in 2016. 

“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,” said Uttam Dhillon, the agency’s acting administrator. “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.”

DEA plans to issue new regulations for the legal growing program to ensure it is complying with relevant laws. The notice also served to enable researchers to perform their work on hemp without federal approval, as allowed for under a 2018 law.