Cultivated marijuana is seen in this 1999 photo at the University of Mississippi, which has a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse to supply marijuana for scientific and medical research. (Robert Jordan, Associated Press file)

DEA plans to reduce quota of government-grown marijuana for research in 2018

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration intends to decrease the amount of marijuana it allocates for federally approved research.

The DEA has released its proposed 2018 aggregate production quotas (APQ) for substances that fall under the tightest restrictions as Schedule I and II in the federal drug classification; the APQs are set to meet the estimated needs for research and industrial purposes.

The APQ proposal calls for a reduction of most substances, notably Schedule II opioid painkillers such as oxycodone, morphine, codeine and hydrocodone, DEA officials said. The proposed quotas also were lowered for “marihuana” and tetrahydrocannabinols according to the notice published Friday in the Federal Register. The DEA is in a 30-day comment period for the proposed adjustments.

The proposed production quotas for marijuana are 443,680 grams (about 978 pounds), down from 472,000 grams (about 1,040 pounds) in 2017, according to the notice. The quotas for THC were reduced to 384,460 grams (about 848 pounds), from 409,000 grams (about 902 pounds) in 2017.

A year ago, the DEA announced it would reduce barriers to research by allowing more entities to apply for licenses to cultivate marijuana and manufacture cannabis products for federally approved research projects. For nearly 50 years, the University of Mississippi has been the only authorized grower of marijuana for federal research, under a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Researchers have expressed concern about the government-provided stock, saying it does not accurately reflect products available in states that have legalized medical marijuana. Additionally, tests found that some of the samples provided from Ole Miss were contaminated with mold, PBS NewsHour reported in March.

The DEA has received 22 applications for that expanded program, said Melvin S. Patterson, an agency spokesman, in an emailed statement to The Cannabist. None has been approved, he said, noting that the expansion is unprecedented and it’s unclear how long the process could take.

The APQ is set first and independent of manufacturers’ desires, then divvied up later, he said.

“Their wants are not a factor in setting the APQ,” he said. “The things related to manufacturing that are factors are how much they disposed of in the current and previous two years; how much they have in inventory and trends in inventory maintenance; and the availability and cost of raw materials they need to make their products. But their business goals and strategies are not factors.”

As the production quota for marijuana was increased substantially in recent years, the reduction for 2018 might not be as pressing as other concerns, said Rick Doblin, founder and executive director the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. MAPS partnered with Lyle Craker, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, to apply for a marijuana manufacturing license as part of the DEA’s stated expansion.

“Rather, the issue is whether the DEA is willing to end the (National Institute on Drug Abuse) monopoly and let private industry/nonprofits grow marijuana in order to conduct medical marijuana drug development research,” Doblin said via email.

Since returning a set of questions from the DEA on April 12, Craker has not received a response, MAPS officials said. Craker is seeking a license to grow about 100 pounds initially — about 25 pounds each of four different varieties, Doblin said.

UPDATE — Aug. 22, 2017: Officials from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which has supported marijuana studies, stated that PBS NewsHour’s report did not clarify that marijuana and other plant matter contain at least some mold, and that the supply from NIDA was determined to be satisfactory for human consumption and for use in clinical trials.