Cannabis is one of the most difficult drugs to study in the US. And while cannabis advocates usually blame the US federal government for putting up roadblocks in the way of researchers, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker says the real bad guys are over at the UN.
For over 50 years, researchers hoping to study marijuana have had to source cannabis from a single authorized facility run by the University of Mississippi. That arrangement has kept the amount of cannabis available for research frustratingly low for both lawmakers and scholars. And while the DEA pledged to approve more federally funded cultivators of research-grade marijuana back in 2016, they've yet to follow through on that promise.
But you can't fault the feds for that, according to Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who blames the lack of progress on the UN's international cannabis treaties. That claim surfaced last week when Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO) asked Whitaker about the holdup during a hearing with the House Judiciary Committee.
"Several institutions have submitted applications that have yet to receive a response," Congressman Neguse said on Friday. "What is the status of those applications...and do you know if the Department of Justice and DEA intend to support legitimate cannabis research that can help protect the health and safety of our citizens?"
That's when Whitaker pointed the finger at the UN.
"We have run into a very complicated matter regarding an [international] treaty that we're trying to get around," he said.
Whitaker appears to have been referencing UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), which the US and several other countries signed to express their commitment to combating the international black market for drugs. But that treaty doesn't carry the force of law. For proof of that, just look at Canada, which also signed that treaty, yet America's northern neighbor didn't let it stop them from legalizing recreational cannabis last fall.
Moreover, that treaty does not actually prevent cannabis research, according to another department of the federal government.
"Nothing in the text of the Single Convention, nor in the Commentary, suggests that there is a limitation on the number of licenses that can be issued," theState Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement said in response to an inquiry from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in 2016.
But Whitaker didn't acknowledge either of those points. Instead, he assured the committee that he would "try to get an answer as to the current status" of application to grow research grade marijuana before his tenure as acting attorney general ended.
Of course, his response is little more than a dodge considering that he will only remain as acting attorney general for little more than a week as William Barr is expected to take over the position soon. So even if Whitaker truly wanted to expand marijuana research, he won't have enough time to make it happen. But Barr might hit the ground running on this issue since he voice support for expanding cannabis research during his confirmation hearings.
So hopefully Whitaker will be the last bureaucrat to use the lame UN excuse.
H/T: Marijuana Moment