CNN's Sanjay Gupta (Chris Pizzello, Invision/AP)

Will DEA’s new policy tweak foster more cannabis research? Sanjay Gupta doesn’t think so

CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta questions the DEA: 'Will this decision make it significantly easier for scientists to study the medical benefits of marijuana? The answer sadly is: unlikely.'

When the Drug Enforcement Administration last week denied years-old petitions to reschedule cannabis, the agency also “announced a policy change designed to foster research by expanding the number of DEA-registered marijuana manufacturers.”

As we reported last week:

While stores selling marijuana line the streets near many of Colorado’s research institutions, the only federally legal place for scientists in Colorado to obtain marijuana for study was, until Thursday, a lab at the University of Mississippi.

That monopoly was a frequent source of complaints from researchers, who said the lab struggled to produce marijuana of the potency or precise chemical composition that they required.

So will the DEA’s tweak on marijuana policy truly “foster research,” as the agency wrote in its Aug. 11 announcement? Only time will tell — and it will likely take some time, as in years. As we wrote last week: “Any company or university hoping to grow marijuana with the DEA’s blessing will still have to receive multiple approvals, undergo several inspections and lay out serious money on security equipment over a multiyear application process.”

The DEA’s announcement got the attention of CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who said the policy change won’t likely help researchers study cannabis for potential benefits. As Gupta wrote recently in a column titled, “DEA’s missed opportunity on medical marijuana”:

There is really just one salient question when it comes to today’s decision by the Drug Enforcement Administration to expand the number of growers of research-grade marijuana, while still not changing the scheduling of marijuana: Will this decision make it significantly easier for scientists to study the medical benefits of marijuana?

The answer sadly is: unlikely. And this is a missed opportunity that could further delay potential therapies to countless people.

Gupta said the DEA’s announcement would be “hailed as a victory for research,” but “it will largely be symbolic, because no matter how much marijuana is available, if access is still difficult, it hardly matters” — a scathing indictment of the DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

DEA spokesman Russell Baer last week told The Cannabist the agency has an undeserved reputation.

“People should not get hung up on this idea that the DEA somehow is still a big, bad wolf,” Baer said. “We are not. We are engaged with the medical community. We have new strategies.”

Read Gupta’s full column.