After over 50 years of a monopoly for the cultivation of cannabis for research purposes, the DEA is ending the University of Mississippi’s hold on legal marijuana cultivation, and has begun handing out licenses to other entities. Why is the DEA increasing the number of medical cannabis cultivators, and what does this mean?
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The story of the DEA increasing the amount of medical cannabis cultivators isn’t shiny new, but started back in May of 2021. On May 14th, 2021, the DEA announced that it had for the first time allowed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to three applicants. The applicants are meant to work together to cultivate, process, store, and distribute medical cannabis in order to provide it to appropriate facilities for testing and research. And they are meant to do this according to rules the DEA put into effect at the end of 2020. The MOA means that new approved participants are in compliance with US federal law. One of the hopes in expanding out cultivation, is in expanding out diversity for testing.
Prior to this time, the only entity able to cultivate legal marijuana in the US, was the University of Mississippi, through its National Center for the Development of Natural Products. The University had held that designation as the only cultivator of legal marijuana in the US, since 1968. Over the years, this has caused much controversy, with scientists repeatedly complaining that the quality of what was being produced, was subpar, and that the marijuana grown, infrequently reflected what people were actually smoking. On top of this, the University of Mississippi only provided flower, and not extracts, concentrates, or edibles, making for a limited offering considering today’s cannabis market.
An entire five years ago, back in 2016, the DEA announced it would update policies, and open cultivation to other entities, for the creation of research grade medical cannabis. Of course, five years has gone by since that statement was made. Now, in 2021, the DEA is making good on its promise of five years ago, with its announcement that other parties will be given authorization for marijuana production. At the time the DEA made the announcement, it gave no timeline for the final authorization of new cultivation participants, or when it even expected to get through the mass of pending applications that are still waiting.