The already restrictive rules around cannabis have gotten tighter, as the DEA has reduced the intended amount of government cannabis grown for research purposes.
As Alicia Wallace at The Cannabist reports, each year the DEA sets aggregate production quotas, or APQ. These ostensibly reflect the need for research and industrial purposes.
This year, the quotas for cannabis have dropped from 472,000 grams to 443,680 grams.
Two things to keep in mind. First, the University of Mississippi is currently the only authorized supplier of research cannabis, via the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Second, the DEA announced last year that it would allow more places to apply for licenses to cultivate research marijuana - but none of them have been approved.
For their part, the DEA insists that “business goals and strategies are not factors” when it comes to setting the APQ for the year. But if nothing else, this story shows how the restrictive approach to cannabis research is completely out of date - as is the cannabis being produced for scientific study.
The poor quality of research-grade marijuana is skewing the results of cannabis research, according to a report released earlier this year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM). "Because of restrictions on production and vicissitudes in supply and demand, federally produced cannabis may have been harvested years earlier, is stored in a freezer (a process that may affect the quality of the product), and often has a lower potency than cannabis sold in state-regulated markets," NASEM wrote in the report.
And researchers can't always get their hands on the sort of cannabis products that people consume in states like Colorado. The report added that "many products available in state-regulated markets (e.g., edibles, concentrates, oils, wax, topicals) are not commonly available through federal sources. Since the products available through the federal system do not sufficiently reflect the variety of products used by consumers, research conducted using cannabis provided by NIDA may lack external validity."
In other words, government-approved cannabis studies are arguably irrelevant because the marijuana grown for research doesn't represent the kind that's being consumed in legal states right now. It's like if researchers could only study the effects that cellphones have on our brains by analyzing the clunky old model made famous by Zack Morris.
So thanks to the DEA, cannabis researchers are facing an even lower supply of an inferior product, and they have nowhere else to turn. But as bad as things are for them, the situation is even more grim for patients who might benefit from the breakthroughs in cannabis research that the federal government is obstructing. Marijuana is a potential treatment for many serious conditions from cancer to the opioid epidemic that is claiming over 30,000 American lives every year.
That means the DEA isn't just reducing the amount of marijuana grown for scientific study. By interfering with cannabis research, it is reducing the quality of life for millions of Americans.