DEA Issues Final Rule on December 17 Establishing a Clearinghouse for Production and Sale of Federally Legal Cannabis
Concluding a process that started in March with its announcement of a new rule governing the application of bulk manufacture licenses for marijuana, on December 17, 2020, DEA issued a final rule that essentially establishes DEA as a clearinghouse for all production and sale of federally legal cannabis. Instead of simplifying the process and acting on the dozens of pending applications, DEA’s new rules have failed to meaningfully address the field’s urgent needs for medicine and instead, add additional administrative hurdles that will ultimately hurt people seeking relief from medical cannabis.
For the last two decades, the U.S. Department of Justice has inconsistently applied international treaty obligations to justify a monopoly on production of cannabis by a single grower, while utterly failing to act on applications from other qualified producers, like Dr. Lyle Craker. Given the progress occurring at the United Nations, in other countries around the world, and with state-legal systems here in the United States, we are particularly disappointed to see the federal government continue to dig its heels in and restrict science. For more information and context, read this article from Marijuana Moment.
On December 2, 2020, the United Nations’ Commission on Narcotic Drugs made a momentus move by voting to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from the most restrictive of the international schedules—Schedule IV. The decision was based on a set of recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), made to the Commission in January 2019. While this change does not remove any internationally required controls on cannabis, this important move officially recognizes the potential therapeutic value of cannabis. Cannabis remains in Schedule I, which imposes the controls that member states must comply with, but removes it from Schedule IV, which is a sub-category of Schedule I that denotes high risk drugs with little to no therapeutic value. Inclusion in Schedule IV also leaves the option of maintaining a complete prohibition on those drugs up to the judgment of the member state.
Also on December 2, Professor Lyle Craker, a Professor of Botany and Plant Sciences at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and longtime collaborator with MAPS, filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Barr and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for egregious delay in taking any action on an application to grow cannabis for federally-approved clinical research. Prof. Craker filed this application, his second, in February 2017 and is yet to receive any indication of the agency’s intent to approve or deny it, to date. All other applications to grow federally-approved cannabis sit in the same limbo—creating, in effect, a near complete bar on cannabis drug development research in the United States. The DEA is currently stuck trying to thread the narrow needle the Department of Justice has created with its quiet-but-restrictive interpretation of international treaty obligations. The UN decision this month didn’t go far enough to directly undermine this interpretation on controls, but the recognition of medical applications for cannabis is an important international policy signal in the direction of more, not less, action in cannabis therapeutics.
In the same week, the U.S. House of Representatives, for the first time, passed a bill—the MORE Act—that would federally decriminalize cannabis by removing it from scheduling.