Washington, D.C. – Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a known anti-drug crusader, to cease reported efforts by the Drug Enforcement Agency to slow medical marijuana research, following reports that the Department of Justice was blocking medical marijuana research efforts by delaying approvals for manufacturers growing research-grade medical marijuana, according to a letter from the bipartisan duo to Sessions.

“We write to request that you enable the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to fulfill its charter of lawfully registering manufacturers of the controlled substance of marijuana for research without delay. Research on marijuana is necessary to resolve critical questions of public health and safety, such as learning the impacts of marijuana on developing brains and formulating methods to test marijuana impairment in drivers.”  

The DEA continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance — which on a federal level, officially means it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Currently, more than half of the United States; thirty states, as well as the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form – with eight states and D.C. allowing recreational use.

While The Hill reports that the DEA has been open to medical research regarding marijuana, evidenced by a change in policy nearly two years ago to allow for more suppliers because of the growing interest in researching more medical uses of the drug, the senators are concerned about reports that Sessions’ Department of Justice is “blocking the DEA from taking action on more than two dozen requests to grow marijuana for use in research,” which has resulted in only one manufacturer to date, the University of Mississippi, being licensed to produce cannabis for federal research.

At least 25 manufacturers have formally applied to grow federally approved “research grade” cannabis, but none of those applications have been approved by the DEA, and according to Harris and Hatch.

In a letter sent Thursday, the bipartisan duo of senators wrote:

Research on marijuana is necessary for evidence-based decision making, and expanded research has been called for by President Trump’s Surgeon General, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the FDA, the CDC, the National Highway Safety Administration, the National Institute of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the National Academies of Sciences, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse”…

“The benefits of research are unquestionable. Research will give law enforcement guidance to do their jobs: protecting drivers on the roads, protecting kids in schools, and maintaining law and order. 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. America’s heroes deserve scientifically-based assessments of the substance many of them are already self-administering. By allowing expanded research, the Department of Justice will aid legislators in making sound decisions, help law enforcement in developing critical public safety guidance, and ensure that citizens have the benefit of informed, evidence-based policy.

Research on marijuana is necessary to resolve critical questions of public health and safety, such as learning the impacts of marijuana on developing brains and formulating methods to test marijuana impairment in drivers.

The letter from the senators asked Sessions for a “commitment to resolve all outstanding applications by Aug. 11, 2018 at the latest (exactly two years since the DEA announced its policy change).

The full letter to Sessions is below.

Dear Attorney General Sessions:                                                                           

We write to request that you enable the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to fulfill its charter of lawfully registering manufacturers of the controlled substance of marijuana for research without delay. Research on marijuana is necessary to resolve critical questions of public health and safety, such as learning the impacts of marijuana on developing brains and formulating methods to test marijuana impairment in drivers.  

To date, it has been federal practice that only one manufacturer — the University of Mississippi — is licensed to produce marijuana for federally-sanctioned research. Historically, as the DEA has noted, that single manufacturer could meet the minimal demand for research. However, the DEA changed its policy nearly two years ago because, as it explained, “There is growing public interest in exploring the possibility that marijuana or its chemical constituents may be used as potential treatments for certain medical conditions,” and the DEA — along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — “fully supports expanding research into the potential medical utility of marijuana and its chemical constituents.”   

As of August 11, 2016, 354 individuals and institutions were approved by the DEA to conduct expansive research on marijuana and its related components. Those researchers needed access to a federally compliant expanded product line—they needed to study different types of marijuana and across various delivery mechanisms. Accordingly, a diverse, DEA-vetted market of suppliers of research-grade marijuana would be critical. Since the DEA’s Federal Register Notice on August 12, 2016, at least 25 manufacturers have formally applied to produce federally-approved research-grade marijuana.

Last August, The Washington Post reported that you have been blocking these efforts: “The Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions has effectively blocked the Drug Enforcement Administration from taking action on more than two dozen requests to grow marijuana to use in research.”

When asked by Senator Hatch at a Judiciary Committee oversight hearing to clarify DOJ’s role in processing these applications, you said, “I think it would be healthy to have some more competition in the [federally-approved research-grade marijuana] supply, but I’m sure we don’t need 26 new suppliers.” Nevertheless, the supply needed for research is clearly not meeting the demand. There are currently two bipartisan bills before the Senate Judiciary Committee that would streamline the obtuse process for researchers to receive federal permission to study marijuana. Those bills and the strong popular support they have received are indicative of the nation’s demand for marijuana to be thoroughly researched.  

We write this letter because research on marijuana is necessary for evidence-based decision making, and expanded research has been called for by President Trump’s Surgeon General, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the FDA, the CDC, the National Highway Safety Administration, the National Institute of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the National Academies of Sciences, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In order to facilitate such research, scientists and lawmakers must have timely guidance on whether, when, and how these manufacturers’ applications will be resolved.

The benefits of research are unquestionable. Research will give law enforcement guidance to do their jobs:protecting drivers on the roads, protecting kids in schools, and maintaining law and order. 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. America’s heroes deserve scientifically-based assessments of the substance many of them are already self-administering.

By allowing expanded research, the Department of Justice will aid legislators in making sound decisions, help law enforcement in developing critical public safety guidance, and ensure that citizens have the benefit of informed, evidence-based policy.

 Nineteen months have elapsed since the DEA announced its request for expanded marijuana research. To ensure that the DOJ resolves these applications in a timely fashion, allowing the DEA to fulfill its charter, we request that by May 15, 2018, you provide:

·  Notice of the date that the Department of Justice expects to complete its review of these applications so that the DEA may grant these new suppliers a license to produce marijuana for federally approved research;

·  Notice to applicants of the timeline for resolution and the status of their applications;

·  Notice of actions you have taken to review applications since October 18, 2017, when you testified before the Judiciary Committee that competition among federally-approved marijuana producers would be “healthy;” and

· A commitment to resolve applications by August 11, 2018, at the latest (exactly two years since the DEA announced its policy change).

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