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US: New DEA-registered cannabis growers can supply researchers with their products

Since 1968, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) contracted operation based at the University of Mississippi was the only grower licensed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to cultivate cannabis for research purposes. In 2016, Dr. Sue Sisley first applied to grow cannabis for research purposes when the Obama administration announced a plan to allow other growers to provide cannabis to researchers.

The DEA dragged their feet on this plan for years, so lawsuits were filed. Litigation against the DEA and Department of Justice that were brought on behalf of Dr. Sisley and Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) ended that NIDA monopoly in May 2021. Since then, the DEA has licensed four additional bulk manufacturers of cannabis. SRI received one of those licenses.

These new federally licensed cannabis growers can supply researchers with any cannabis product currently on the market. Claims to the contrary, while widespread, rest on the false assumption that because federal law prohibits DEA-registered cannabis growers from buying or otherwise acquiring cannabis plants/products grown/manufactured in violation of federal law, the newly-registered growers cannot produce those plants/products for researchers.

That argument, however, overlooks something critical: cannabis plants grow from cannabis seeds, and cannabis seeds contain not more than 0.3% delta-9 THC, meaning they are not a controlled substance under federal law. As a result, DEA's newly-licensed marijuana growers can obtain the seeds from marijuana plants being grown and sold in state-legal markets, use those seeds to grow the same plants without violating federal law, and sell the plants to DEA-registered researchers for use in research, including FDA clinical trials, or use the plants for their own studies and/or FDA clinical trials.

That is not all. Federally licensed growers can also grow the cannabis currently being sold and used on the state-legal market using tissue cultures and other genetic material. Like cannabis seeds, such material is not a controlled substance under federal law, because it does not contain the requisite amount of delta-9 THC. The DEA's newly-licensed cannabis growers can therefore use tissue cultures and genetic materials to do everything they can do with seeds described above.

For more information:
Vicente Sederberg LLP

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