The Agency has been under pressure for several months over the lack of progress it has made in processing applications. In May, a bipartisan group of 30 U.S. lawmakers wrote to Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon, calling for greater urgency.
They also wrote to Attorney General William Barr, who promised to look into the hold-up. Now the DEA has announced it is moving forward with dozens of applications that will expand scientific and medical research for marijuana in the U.S.
“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,” said Dhillon.
It said the number of research applications has increased by more than 40% over the past two years, from 384 in January 2017 to 540 in January 2019. It has doubled its production quota each year to provide enough cannabis for researchers to work with.
The University of Mississippi has historically been the only institution with a federal license to produce marijuana for research purposes, and researchers have complained that the bud they have to work with does not reflect the products on the market.
Dhillon said that registering more marijuana growers will increase the variety of marijuana available for these purposes. The DEA added that any hemp with a THC level below 0.3% can be used for research without the need for a federal license.
The group of lawmakers piling pressure on the DEA includes three candidates for the Democrats’ presidential nomination and a number of long-term marijuana advocates. They have called the application process arduous and long, arguing that there is too much red tape as the DEA, the FDA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse all need to be consulted.