Bipartisan senators are calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to cease efforts by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to slow medical marijuana research.
In a letter sent Thursday, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said they are concerned by reports that the Justice Department is effectively blocking the DEA from taking action on more than two dozen requests to grow marijuana for use in research.
“Research on marijuana is necessary for evidence-based decision making, and expanded research has been called for by President Trump’s Surgeon General, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the FDA, the CDC, the National Highway Safety Administration, the National Institute of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the National Academies of Sciences, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse,” the senators wrote.
Sessions has been an outspoken opponent of marijuana throughout most of his career, and frequently speaks harshly about its use. Sessions has also signaled that he is skeptical about the medical benefits of smoking marijuana.
The DEA has maintained marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance — which officially means it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
However, the DEA has been open to medical research regarding marijuana and changed its policy nearly two years ago to allow for more suppliers because of the growing interest in researching more medical uses of the drug.
To date, only one manufacturer — the University of Mississippi — is licensed to produce marijuana for federally sanctioned research.
According to Hatch and Harris, at least 25 manufacturers have formally applied to produce federally approved research-grade marijuana. But the DEA has not approved those requests, and Hatch and Harris said they are concerned the Justice Department has been sitting on the applications.
“Research on marijuana is necessary to resolve critical questions of public health and safety, such as learning the impacts of marijuana on developing brains and formulating methods to test marijuana impairment in drivers,” the senators wrote.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form. Eight states and D.C. allow recreational use of the drug.
The senators asked Sessions for a commitment that the DEA would resolve all the outstanding applications by Aug. 11 at the latest — exactly two years since the agency announced its policy change.