Slowly, but surely, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is rolling out licenses to entities that want federal permission to grow cannabis for research.
For more than fifty years, only one place could legally do so: the University of Mississippi. Then in 2016, the DEA announced it would approve new growers, which, as the result of twists and turns on which Cannabis Wire reported, didn’t finally happen until last year.
In May of last year, three entities announced that they had signed a “memorandum of agreement” with the DEA, which is one step before final approval. They were Biopharmaceutical Research Company, based in California; Scottsdale Research Institute, based in Arizona; and Bright Green Corp., which is based in New Mexico, and which also received a statement of support from the state’s governor for its “$300M investment in high-tech cannabis manufacturing and research facility.”
But the picture was still fuzzy. At the time, despite the company announcements, the DEA would not confirm which—or how many—applicants had received these memorandums of agreement.
A sharper picture is beginning to take shape, though: In November, the DEA finally created a dedicated page on its site for this new program. There, it lists the regulations, a Q&A—and a list of approved entities, known as “Bulk Manufacturer Marihuana Growers.”
Five approved entities are currently listed, two of which had announced memorandums of agreement: Biopharmaceutical Research Company LLC and Scottsdale Research Institute. The new names on the list are: Groff NA Hemplex LLC, based in Pennsylvania; National Center for Development of Natural Products, based in Mississippi; and Royal Emerald Pharmaceuticals, based in California.
Noting the absence of Bright Green, which announced a memorandum of agreement back in May, Cannabis Wire checked out the company’s site, which reads: “Registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Bright Green Corporation provides federally licensed researchers legal access to high-quality cannabis and associated products.” (Italics added.)
Cannabis Wire contacted the DEA to determine whether an entity might not be on the list even though it had been approved. No, a spokesperson responded: “If an entity has not yet published to the website, they are not yet registered.” (Italics added.)
In response to Cannabis Wire’s inquiry seeking clarity, Bright Green CEO Ed Robinson wrote: “The MOA [memorandum of agreement] is a contractual agreement between two parties to deliver based on a set of respective commitments. BGC commits to delivering the facility and systems specified, the DEA commits to licensing BGC based on the deliverables. Bright Green is registered to be a bulk manufacturer. The registration becomes active when Bright Green delivers the facility and systems specified. BGC cannot engage in the permitted activities until the registration is activated. Bright Green anticipates seeking approval to engage in permitted activities in the second quarter of 2022.”
The DEA would not confirm whether Bright Green has a memorandum of agreement.
The DEA, meanwhile, has received dozens of applications since 2016. When it comes to how many of those dozens of applications are active, and how many of those applicants have received memorandums of agreement, there is no precise way of knowing. But at least one other applicant that is still seeking a license and underwent a DEA inspection told Cannabis Wire that they have not received a memorandum, suggesting that not all applicants received one. The applicant requested anonymity.
Among the original applicants were some mainstream entities, like Battelle, which conducts extensive contract work with the US government on homeland and national security; the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and the University of California, Davis; as well as major cannabis companies, like Canopy Growth.
All of these entities told Cannabis Wire that they are no longer seeking a DEA license to grow cannabis for research. Battelle, for example, told Cannabis Wire, “We decided this was not a strategic business focus for us anymore.”
(The company, however, does lobby on cannabis at the federal level. “It’s an issue we continue to monitor and have some discussions with offices. We continue to conduct research with marijuana at multiple locations. That said, our efforts were more proactive in the past around the potential to grow and seek relief to allow a federal contractor to access state legal marijuana product for research, but this is no longer a focus area for us,” Katy Delaney, Battelle’s director of media relations, told Cannabis Wire.)
In California, in particular, there is notable interest in supporting these new DEA licensees. In August, as Cannabis Wire reported, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a first-of-its-kind bill to exempt these licensees from the state’s existing cannabis law, freeing them to more swiftly conduct research. The bill received a letter of support from the entire University of California (UC) system, which has cannabis research centers at each of its nine campuses.
Nationally, cannabis research is undergoing a boom. In September, the National Institute on Drug Abuse announced unprecedented funding for cannabis research, as Cannabis Wire reported. And, last month, NIDA issued a Notice of Special Interest for Public Health Research on Cannabis, as Cannabis Wire reported, to “encourage grant applications on the effects of changing cannabis laws and policies in the US and globally on public health.”