Pubdate: Fri, 11 May 2018
Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Copyright: 2018 Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Author: Kate Irby


Amid budding efforts to research the medical benefits of marijuana, a
simple problem has emerged -- how do you research marijuana if no one
can produce it under federal law?

Despite a solution proposed in mid-2016, which allowed the Drug
Enforcement Administration to approve marijuana manufacturers, only
the University of Mississippi has been approved, despite dozens of
applications to do so. And there's no sign the DEA intends to approve
others anytime soon.

Advocates seem to blame one person for the delays: Attorney General
Jeff Sessions. Ian Prior, spokesman for the Department of Justice,
declined to comment on the issue.

"The holdup is the Department of Justice," said Rep. Matt Gaetz,

Congress is trying to take action to get the process moving.

A House committee recently approved a bipartisan bill authored by Rep.
Luis Correa, D-Calif. It pushes the Department of Veterans Affairs to
research marijuana's ability to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
and chronic pain.

Correa found many veterans already use marijuana as an alternative to
highly addictive opioids.

Correa said the VA is already authorized to research cannabis under
federal law, but when he asked the agency about its policies,
officials said they weren't sure they had that authority.

"Cannabis is good for treating epilepsy, seizures -- it is
well-documented, we know it works. The question is what else does it
work for?" Correa said.

"For us to stick our heads in a hole in the ground, and not research
the medical aspects of this -- it's criminal," he said. "Absolutely

Even in places where medical or recreational marijuana is legal at the
state level, the VA has to comply with federal law and therefore
cannot prescribe cannabis for medical purposes.

If the bill can pass Congress -- unlikely in an election year, but not
impossible since it has support from members of both parties --
increasing future demand on medical marijuana research and the
limitations of only having one manufacturer could severely limit
research capabilities.

Gaetz introduced legislation in April that would force the attorney
general to approve a certain number of cannabis manufacturers per
year. It has 30 cosponsors, including Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., House
Judiciary Committee chairman, a sign the legislation has a chance of
at least making it to the House floor.

In the Senate, Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, sent
a letter to Sessions a month ago asking why the applications at the
DEA have stalled, with a deadline for response on Tuesday. At least 25
manufacturers have applied, according to the letter, and none have
been approved.

Prior said Thursday that officials "plan on responding (to the letter)
in as expeditious a manner as possible." He did not respond to a
follow-up question on if they thought they would respond by the
deadline or ask for an extension.

Hatch and Harris mentioned concerns over veterans in that letter, and
also warned that Senate legislation may be forthcoming to force the
consideration of more manufacturers.

"Ninety-two percent of veterans support federal research on marijuana,
and the Department of Veterans' Affairs is aware that many veterans
have been using marijuana to manage the pain of their wartime wounds,"
they wrote.

An official for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which works with
the University of Mississippi in distributing marijuana for research
purposes, said current inventory is "more than sufficient" for current
research needs. And while the agency said there hasn't been a major
increase in demand for marijuana in recent years, there has been
"emerging interest from the research community for a wider variety of
marijuana and marijuana products."

The NIDA official said it's difficult to make sure certain strains are
available at certain times, but the University of Mississippi does
have a wide variety of plants available to researchers. NIDA does
support increasing the number of manufacturers to "increase the
variety and strains available to scientists."

There were 354 individuals and institutions approved by the DEA to
conduct research on marijuana and its related components as of Aug.
11, 2016, the most recent data available. The University of
Mississippi is the only manufacturer available to legally produce
marijuana for those researchers.

The university can produce over 500 kilograms of marijuana in an
outdoor growing season, and about 10 kilograms during indoor seasons,
according to the university website.

Correa said many veterans in places like California, where pot is
legal for recreational use, are self-medicating using strains they can
find in dispensaries, which are not necessarily the strains the
University of Mississippi is producing for research.

"If you ask the University of Mississippi all the cannabis shops they
sell to -- it's zero," the congressman said. "It's just good
scientific practice. We need to test the stuff that people are using
to medicate."
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MAP posted-by: Matt