08/26/2019 21:13 EDT

Drug Enforcement Administration Set To Finally Expand Marijuana Research

Scientists sued the DEA when it didn't follow through on its 2016 promise to allow more growers to supply cannabis for research.

More than three years after the Drug Enforcement Administration said it would remove barriers to researchers accessing legal marijuana for the purposes of scientific research, the Department of Justice announced the wait is finally over.

The announcement comes two days before a deadline for the DEA to respond to a lawsuit from researchers, who have long wanted to study marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and dozens of other conditions.

Now DEA officials say they are finally reviewing applications from marijuana growers who hope to supply researchers with cannabis. 

“DEA is making progress in the program to register additional marijuana growers for federally authorized research and will work with other relevant federal agencies to expedite the necessary next steps,” DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon said Monday. “We support additional research into marijuana and its components, and we believe registering more growers will result in researchers having access to a wider variety for study.”

For about five decades, the only authorized supplier of legal weed to labs has been a cannabis garden at the University of Mississippi overseen by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Researchers complained that the monopoly made it hard to get supplies in a timely manner, and the DEA promised in August 2016 that it would expand the program to more growers.

But when the DEA didn’t review or acknowledge the 33 growers who applied to participate, researchers sued. 

“The curtailment of the NIDA monopoly would almost certainly increase the supply of the drug to the research community and make researchers less dependent on Ole Miss for their product,” John Hudak, senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institute, said in 2016.

Though there are zero deaths linked to a marijuana overdose, the DEA classifies the plant under the Schedule 1 category of dangerous drugs, the most aggressively banned category, which also includes heroin.