Health & Science

“Inherent Conflict of Interest:” Cannabiz Slams DEA MED Proposal

By Hilary Corrigan
May 12, 2020
(Photo by Eric Kayne/Getty Images)

Two influential cannabis advocacy groups say the federal government’s proposed rules to accelerate MED research would give too much control to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The National Cannabis Industry Association opposed the entire rulemaking, warning on May 11 that it would “radically overhaul how medical cannabis can be researched.”

NORML previously warned that the DEA’s proposal could block research efforts, in part by giving DEA sole discretion over who can grow cannabis for research.

The DEA published the proposed rules— called “Controls to Enhance the Cultivation of Marihuana for Research in the United States”— in the Federal Register in March. It presents them as a way to expand the number of registered growers, produce more diverse plant specimens and advance research. A DEA press release at the time emphasized the federal government’s support for scientific and medical marijuana research.

The published rules involve who can grow the plant in bulk for research purposes. Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, those seeking to manufacture a controlled substance must apply and register through DEA. The newly proposed rules would add new questionnaires to gain more information from applicants, and add provisions related to DEA’s purchase and sale of the marijuana.

The proposal states that in order to comply with the CSA and with the United Nations’ Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, DEA would require cannabis cultivators to deliver their total crops to the agency, with the agency buying and taking possession of the crops no later than four months after the harvest. DEA would control distribution.

Conflict of Interest

NCIA, which represents nearly 2,000 cannabis and related businesses, called for federal health agencies, rather than a law enforcement agency, to oversee the process. It said the mandate for important public health research falls outside DEA’s expertise.

The group also cited an “inherent conflict of interest” in having the DEA promote and apply the proposed rules. The trade association noted the agency’s seizure of 4 million cannabis plants, in 2019 and a failure to act on previous cultivation applications over the past four years.

“It is time for the federal government to facilitate and not hinder research into these popular products,” the group stated. It stressed the national broad public support for cannabis; the economic benefits which could stem from it and the growing numbers of medical cannabis patients.

NCIA noted that the University of Mississippi has the only federally sanctioned facility for growing cannabis, which it supplies through a National Institute on Drug Abuse contract. MED activists say this limits the supply of high-quality cannabis for research. One researcher has sued over the lack of supply and the rulemaking around it, noting that it delays research.

A DEA policy statement in 2016 called for new MED cultivator applications and more than 30 entities have applied. But DEA has not acted on those applications. After three years of waiting for the DEA’s rules, NCIA warned the new proposal would further obstruct research by imposing more regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles.

Treaty Questions

NCIA specifically questioned DEA’s claim that complying with the U.N.’s Single Convention would require the agency to control the import, trade and stocks of cannabis—and require applicants to prove their registration would meet public interest. NCIA pointed to the Trump Administration’s actions in recent years to remove the U.S. from several international organizations and treaties.

“It is therefore confusing to see how the Administration…is now relying upon an international treaty to justify the transfer of authority over cannabis production for research to law enforcement,” NCIA stated.

NCIA stressed a need for research into cannabis’ medicinal benefits and a need for a more accessible supply of better quality cannabis.

“The attempted rulemaking here would do nothing to solve either of those problems,” NCIA stated.

NCIA plans to host a webinar in June to discuss the issues. The rulemaking continues collecting public comments until May 22