DEA Takes a Timeout on Hemp

On August 26, 2019, the DEA announced they will be facilitating and expanding scientific research for cannabis within the US by (1) taking hemp off the controlled substance list and no longer requiring DEA registration to grow and research hemp and (2) by working with additional federal agencies to “expedite the necessary steps to register additional marijuana growers for federally authorized research.”

The DEA is also currently providing notice to pending applicants registered to manufacture cannabis for federal research purposes of these changes. The DEA hopes that by granting more registrations to qualified cannabis growers, it will increase the variety of cannabis available for research purposes.  Within the past two years alone, there has been a 40% increase of individuals conducting cannabis research registered by the DEA. The DEA itself even doubled the production quota for cannabis annually in order to meet the increase of federally approved cannabis research projects. Acting DEA Administrator, Uttam Dhillon, stated “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.”

With the cannabis industry growing at the rate it’s been, states and agencies are doing their best to be as transparent as possible and shifting towards a compliance model in light of the of the positive cannabis movement within many federal agencies. For example, the WSLCB is now giving notices and warnings on violations and giving advice on compliance instead of automatic sanctions. They have also reached out to numerous industry growers to ask about their most common issues are and what the WSLCB can do to help. 

However, some researchers and industry experts still have some reservations on the DEA’s change of heart. Many believe that DEA’s announcement was a direct result of an appellate court’s order that demanded that the DEA “respond to claims that it ha17 unlawfully failed to act on medical cannabis research applications since 2016.” Additionally, there are many anxieties about the actual timing of when the pending DEA registrations will be granted. Since 2016, only one registrant applicant, The University of Mississippi, has been granted DEA registration, in spite of congressional pressure on the DEA to act. 

Further timing concerns stem from the DEA’s stance that before they start granting registration on the pending applications, it will need to develop new regulations that conform to the new applicable legal standards regarding scientific and medical research on the cannabis. The DEA did not say when they hope to present such proposed new regulations. Nevertheless, the DEA hopes that the 2018 Farm Bill’s new categorization of hemp will allow growers and scientists to move forward collaboratively with their research, despite the DEA’s slow registration approval, to provide new insight on this amazing plant.  

By Fabiola Jimenez

Cultiva Law

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