The DEA has recently announced that they are rewriting Obama’s federal cannabis regulations by processing pending applications for access to cannabis research. In addition, companies that are looking to obtain DEA registration to grow cannabis for research are also closer to their end goal. 

Attorney General William P. Barr said that he is “pleased that DEA is moving forward with its review of applications for those who seek to grow marijuana legally to support research.” This decision to allow more applications to come through occurs after many long years of delays. Dr. Sue Sisley with the Scottsdale Research Institute of Arizona was a huge reason why the need regulations are being put into place. Dr. Sisley expressed increasing frustration at the low quality of research being disseminated from the University of Mississippi and felt that the university had the monopoly on medical cannabis for research purposes. 

The “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 DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon. “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.”

Though there has been progress in the process of rewriting the regulations, very few applicants will qualify. Currently, there are 33 applicants, but several will be disqualified due to their current or previous involvement in the cannabis industry. According to the DEA, being state-compliant automatically disqualifies applicants from being federally compliant. In order to qualify, applicants must comply with strict guidelines and demonstrate a case for the public interest. 

Current applicants include the University of Massachusetts and the Hawaii Agriculture Research Institute, who are applying for an extract license. The University of California Davis is looking to grow cannabis. The applicants are not limited to universities and research institutes: Duane Boise, CEO of MMJ Biopharma Cultivation, based in Florida, believes that he has a chance at obtaining a federal license to cultivate medical marijuana.

“We meet the public interest requirement evidenced by our filings with the FDA, in our development of a cannabis-based drug to treat Multiple Sclerosis and Huntington’s Disease,” says Boise. He and his company have applied for the DEA bulk manufacturing license with the intention of the continued development of an FDA-approved pharmaceutical. Part of Boise’s plan is to cultivate on federally-protected Native American sovereign lands. In this mutually beneficial arrangement, MMJ Biopharma will employ many members of the tribe. So far, the only viable opportunity for cultivating federally-approved cannabis has been through an association with a university, but Duane Boise’s strategy may prove to be effective. 

The DEA is expected to release their amendments to the 2016 Obama policy statement within the next 30 days. Of the 33 registered applicants, several have already been disqualified. Whether the applicants are approved remains to be seen.