30 Members of Congress urge DEA to “speed up” medical cannabis research

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Thirty members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the leaders of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Justice on Tuesday, calling on the federal agencies to speed up research into the medical uses of cannabis. The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers including cannabis advocate and Democrat Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and three of the nearly two dozen candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.

Presidential candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, fellow Democrat Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, and Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, the leaders of the letter, were joined by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Rep. Seth Moulton, who are both also vying for the Democratic nomination, and more than 20 additional members of the House of Representatives. Swallwell announced the move on Tuesday morning in a post on Twitter.

Approval for Cannabis Research ‘Arduous and Long’ Process

In the letter, the members of Congress urged Attorney General William Barr and Uttam Dhillon, the Acting Administrator of the DEA, “to do more to speed research on the medicinal benefits of cannabis.” The legislators note that 33 states and the Food and Drug Administration, with the approval of cannabis-based medication Epidiolex, have acknowledged the medical potential of marijuana. However, obtaining federal approval for research into cannabis, a Schedule I controlled substance, is “an arduous and long” process.

“One who wishes to engage in this research must at the very least work with three separate federal entities—the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), DEA, and FDA. Approval is required by FDA, which includes a site inspection, and FDA,” the letter reads.

The lawmakers also note that cannabis supplied by the University of Mississippi, the only federally-approved cultivator, is of poor quality and often slow to arrive. Despite efforts to approve more growers and an increase in the quota for research cannabis, the DEA has failed to act on 26 applications from companies who wish to cultivate marijuana for research.

“We urge you then to go beyond these steps and do whatever you can to speed up and improve the research application process,” the lawmakers wrote. “Please let us know what you are considering to change the application process so it moves more quickly and what additional resources from Congress would help in that regard.”

Unanswered Questions

The lawmakers also repeated questions that they said had been asked previously but gone unanswered by the Justice Department:

“1. What is the current status of the 26 cannabis manufacturer applications? How long has each been pending before DOJ and DEA?

2. What steps have the DEA and DOJ taken to review the cannabis manufacturer applications currently pending? What are the reasons these applications have not been approved?

3. When do you estimate the DEA and DOJ will complete their review of all of the cannabis manufacturing applications and begin approving some as new manufacturers?

4. In the past 12 months, excluding Schedule I Bulk Manufacturer registrations for cannabis, how many other DEA registrations has DOJ reviewed?”

Those applications had reportedly been blocked from being acted on by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But in an appearance before Congress last month, Barr said that would change.

“I think we’re going to move forward on it,” he said. “I think it’s very important to get those additional suppliers.”

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