Earlier this month, the federal government announced a plan to spend tens of millions of dollars on cannabis research through the University of Mississippi, which holds the only federally legal cannabis garden in the United States for FDA-sanctioned research. The grant restitutes a contract held 40 years ago by the federal government with Ole Miss. The university’s Marijuana Research Project began in 1968, supplying medical cannabis for up to 30 patients at one point, but the program closed its doors to new patients in the early 1990s — there were only four patients still alive and receiving treatment in 2014.
The new agreement is worth up to $68.7 million over five years and was awarded by the National Institutes of Health. Details were posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website. Although feds expect the number to be closer to $8 million spent on research, unless demand increases. “To serve the research community, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has tried to build farm capacity flexible enough to accommodate various levels of demand for research [cannabis] and [cannabis] products over the next five years,” stated the spokesman for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a sector of NIH that supervises cannabis operations at Ole Miss. NIDA is obligated to spend at least $1.5 million on University of Mississippi cannabis research in the 2015 fiscal year.
Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly, lead scientist at Ole Miss’s cannabis lab, told the Los Angeles Times that his team was preparing to grow 30,000 cannabis plants last year; but it’s uncertain how many plants they will cultivate in the coming year.
In a 2014 call for research facilities, the government proposed seeking a facility that could “cultivate and harvest, process, analyze, store, and distribute cannabis for research.” The call also stated that researchers wanted to “extract cannabis to produce pure and standardized cannabis extracts” containing different concentrations of THC, CBD (a non-psychoactive compound) and other cannabinoids. The federal government also said that it was interested in research that would “develop new methods for growing cannabis plants containing high THC, low CBD; high CBD, low THC; and equal strength of CBD and THC.”
Critics of the proposal argue that federal research on the plant concentrate too much on the negative effects of the drug, instead of its prospective medical benefits. The DEA, which controls any potential researcher’s license to test the plant, has also been blamed for obstructing research of the drug. However, a recent bill introduced into Congress called the CAREERS Act might break up the federal government’s cannabis monopoly by allowing non-governmental research facilities to grow the plant and reclassify it as a less hazardous substance.
There have been copious studies done over the years showing the health benefits of cannabis; from attacking some forms of aggressive cancer, to better blood sugar control, and helping to slow the spread of HIV. One new study published by the Cato Institute suggests pro cannabis laws promotes a decrease in suicide attempts.
However, under federal law, cannabis still remains illicit and a Schedule I drug, meaning it’s classified as one of the “most dangerous” substances “with no currently accepted medical use.”