During a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions admitted that it would “be healthy to have some more competition” in the federal government’s cannabis research program, noting that there are currently 26 supplier applications before the Drug Enforcement Agency from entities interested in growing cannabis for federal medicinal research.
“Each one of those [cultivation sites] has to supervised by the DEA,” Sessions explained. “And I have raised questions about how many and let’s be sure we are doing this in the right way because it costs a lot of money to supervise these events.”
The Attorney General’s remarks came during a line of questioning from Sen. Orrin Hatch about reports that the Department of Justice has actively blocked the DEA from moving forward with approving additional cannabis research applications.
Hatch, a Republican from Utah and senior member of the Judiciary Committee, last month introduced the Marijuana Effective Drugs Studies – or MEDS – Act to encourage federal cannabis research, adding that it could be an “alternative” to using narcotic pharmaceuticals for pain.
“To be clear, I remain opposed to the broad legalization of marijuana,” Hatch said during the hearing, adding that he introduced the MEDS Act because he believes “scientists need to study the potential benefits and dangers” of cannabis.
Since 1970, the DEA has issued a single license to grow cannabis for federal research. The farm, a partnership between the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Mississippi, had its license renewed in 2015. Last year, the DEA called for adding more research licenses, but no new licenses have been issued. The agency has approved 350 individual applications to independent researchers to study cannabis and its components.