Researchers hoping to study marijuana for scientific and medical purposes are one step closer to expanding their limited supply of the plant.
This week, the federal government announced it would begin processing dozens of pending applications for permission to cultivate the plant for scientific research.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s decision comes after several years of delay for some applicants and a lawsuit filed against the agency by one cannabis researcher.
“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 in the statement on Monday.
Barr said the Department of Justice will continue to work to improve research opportunities wherever it can.
Even as many states have legalized marijuana for recreational and medical use, scientists who want to conduct rigorous studies of the plant still have only one place where they can get it: a facility at the University of Mississippi, which contracts with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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This arrangement, which has existed for more than 50 years, amounts to a “monopoly,” says Dr. Sue Sisley who heads the Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona, which studies cannabis.
“The bottom line is scientists need access to options,” says Sisley.
Monday’s announcement is a long-awaited follow-up to an earlier policy change. In 2016, the federal government signaled an end to limiting research on cannabis to only one grower when the DEA announced a policy change allowing new cultivators.
More than 30 organizations, including Sisley’s, applied for a license to grow cannabis for research purposes. But the agency didn’t act on the applications, so earlier this year, Sisley filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding it take action.
The government’s latest decision to move forward on