SOQUEL, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Bryce Berryessa, owner of Treehouse cannabis dispensary, holds up strain of cannabis flower named Garanimals at his shop in Soquel, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group)
Scientists must obtain hard-to-get license from DEA in order to conduct research
It used to be a wild weed of unknown ancestry, grown surreptitiously in the rural fields of Latin America and smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border. But Americans, without knowing what was in the drug or its effects on the brain and the rest of the body, still consumed it with abandon.
Today, two years after recreational marijuana became almost as easy for California adults to buy as Snickers bars — and a quarter-century after voters decided to make the Golden State the first to legalize medical marijuana — cannabis is big business. It’s grown under meticulous conditions, heavily taxed and highly regulated.
Yet, scientists say, in many ways it remains a mysterious drug.
Researchers are anxious to learn more about marijuana’s genetic and chemical makeup, its medical benefits and the public health risks associated with increased use of the drug. But a maze of often contradictory federal and state regulations limits how researchers can put the plant under a microscope.
The scientists’ biggest challenge is this: Cannabis is not only illegal under federal law, it’s also classified as a “Schedule I substance,” meaning that the U.S. government equates it with heroin and other hard drugs that federal officials say have a high potential for abuse and no “currently accepted” medical uses. That means that unless scientists apply and receive a hard-to-get license from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to do cannabis research, they are severely restricted.
“The federal system seems set up to have cannabis researchers fail,” said Jahan Marcu, co-founder of the New York-based International Research Center on Cannabis and Mental Health. “But consumers want a product that’s safe, labeled correctly and, maybe someday, even covered by insurance.”
Published: January 03, 2020