NCIA Calls for Cannabis Oversight Change

In comments to the DEA’s request for information, NCIA advises cannabis research be overseen by health agency.

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May 13, 2020

The Drug Enforcement Administration should not be part of the cannabis research application process. That is the main recommendation the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) to the federal agency currently overseeing the federal medical cannabis research program.

The recommendation, sent on May 11, comes in response to the DEA’s request for information on controls to enhance the cultivation of marijuana for research in the United States. On March 23, the DEA announced it was seeking public comment on its proposal to “amend its regulations to comply with the requirements of the Controlled Substances Act, including consistency with treaty obligations, in order to facilitate the cultivation of cannabis for research purposes and other licit purposes.”

Among other reasons, the NCIA highlights the DEA’s sluggish processing of current applications to explain why the law enforcement agency is not the right fit to lead cannabis research initiatives. 

“It is painfully clear that the DEA is either unable or unwilling to meet the increasing demand for cannabis research from voters, policymakers, and the scientific community,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the NCIA, in a public statement. “By continuing to make this agency the gatekeeper for studies and research production, we are doing a disservice to the nation at a time when we need as much health-related information as possible. Federal agencies should be actively facilitating research that could reveal more about the medical benefits of cannabis, not hiding behind outdated policies to delay or discourage the pursuit of knowledge.”

The NCIA has a case against to argue against the DEA: Despite accepting new research license applications since 2016, no new applicants have been approved by the agency in the years since. A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Scottsdale Research Institute, one such research license applicant, demanding documents that would help explain the slow rollout of the federal government's cannabis research program’s expansion yielded no illuminating information on the lagging program. 

In its filed comments, NCIA argues that “[unreasonable] barriers placed on research, including limiting the number of qualified applicants or further delays in the process, increases the risks to millions of patients who use cannabis, contributing to ongoing uncertainties related to inaccurate dosing, inappropriate formulation application, interactions with pharmaceutical drugs and botanicals, and basic safety monitoring.”

Instead of DEA oversight, the NCIA proposes a health agency such as Health and Human Services (HHS) or National Institutes of Health (NIH) oversee research into the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

“It is our collective view that one of the many qualified public health agencies in the federal government like HHS or NIH can more effectively manage all of the processes related to research into the medicinal benefits of cannabis, including making determinations on who may qualify to grow and sell the product to researchers,” according to comments filed by the NCIA.

To read the NCIA’s full comments, click here

The comment period on for the notice of proposed rulemaking remains open until May 22. Those who wish to submit recommendations can do so at this link