Last week, our client, Newcleus Nurseries, made headlines with the launch of the Oregon HUB, alongside Phylos Bioscience, an agricultural genomics firm focused on cannabis. The HUB is billed as “a cutting edge research, development, and innovation campus.” It seeks to follow the path of Oregon’s disruptive wine industry, which brought quantitative analysis to an artisan approach. We are pleased to be a part of the HUB endeavor: due to federal policies related to cannabis, there is a severe shortage of scientific research on the plant. If that is going to change, private actors must step in.
Today, nearly all federally sponsored cannabis research is conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), under a mandate from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). If you are disappointed that a research institute named for drug “abuse” is leading the charge on cannabis, and that all research is overseen by a law enforcement agency (the DEA, no less), we are too. Sadly, it is also easier for researchers to gain federal permission to study heroin and other Schedule I drugs found in the federal Controlled Substances Act, than to study cannabis. That remains true despite a slight softening in DEA policy last year.
Interestingly, the marijuana studied by NIDA is grown at the University of Mississippi, which historically has produced about 40 pounds a year. NIDA maintains a monopoly over that marijuana, and routinely refuses to supply it to researchers who have obtained all other necessary federal permits. (Those permits in turn come from other agencies with no apparent game plan or incentive to assist on this issue.) The more one explores this, the stranger it gets: as of 2011, NIDA was distributing marijuana (joints) to exactly four people for personal use.
Needless to say, the federal system for cannabis research remains an embarrassment. Even if the federal government were freely granting access to third-party researchers with respect to the NIDA weed (which it most emphatically does not), that crop likely represents a limited perspective on the plant. Because of hybridization and other factors, today a virtually limitless selection of cannabis genotypes and phenotypes exist. Scientists should have the ability to canvass them freely.
It has been observed that expanding research should be promoted by cannabis advocates, prohibitionists and everyone in between. Advocates should welcome the opportunity for scientific inquiry to validate their position that the plant has medicinally valuable effects, or is benign; while prohibitionists should seek validation of their view that pot is a gateway drug, or has no medical value. Ultimately, if one does not ascribe ulterior motive, it is difficult to understand the federal government’s mulish resistance to research.
Given the lay of the land, it is up to states and private actors to take the lead on cannabis research. The opening of the HUB campus in Oregon is one promising development, as is proposed Oregon House Bill 2197, which directs the Oregon Liquor Control Commission “to enter into an agreement with a nongovernmental entity that conducts or funds research on cannabis and cannabis-derived products.” Given all of the roadblocks at the federal level, we applaud the handful of states and private actors who have taken the lead on cannabis research — just as they have in all other aspects of ending prohibition.