DEA Wants To Triple Production Of Government Marijuana For Research

04/08/2015 09:40 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2015

The Drug Enforcement Administration on Wednesday recommended that the federal government produce almost 900 pounds of marijuana for research in 2015, more than triple the amount it had estimated it would need.

The proposal, signed by DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, seeks to increase the government's pot production from its projected need of 125 kilograms (276 pounds) to 400 kilograms (882 pounds). The government needs more marijuana because of "unanticipated medical, scientific, research, and industrial needs of the United States," the DEA said in a notice published in the Federal Register.

The DEA must approve researchers' licenses to handle and test marijuana, which is considered illegal under federal law, and must dole out the drug for research from a government stash. This is the second year in a row that the DEA requested an increase from what it had estimated it would need, reflecting rising interest in researching the drug. Last year, the agency approved production of 650 kilograms (1,433 pounds).

The DEA notice says registered manufacturers have reported that research involving cannabidiol, a compound in marijuana that has shown promise for medical applications without making users high, "is increasing beyond that previously anticipated for 2015."

Additionally, the DEA notice says the National Institute on Drug Abuse needs more of the plant "to provide for ongoing and anticipated research efforts involving marijuana."

NIDA, an arm of the National Institutes of Health, oversees the cultivation, production and distribution of research-grade cannabis for the government. The agency offers more than 100 cannabinoid compounds to scientists.

Multiple studies have shown potential medical benefits, suggesting marijuana combats aggressive cancer, slows the spread of HIV and stunts the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

The request for more marijuana comes a week after the federal government awarded as much as $70 million over the next five years to the University of Mississippi for marijuana research. Ole Miss houses the federal government's only cannabis garden. The award renews a contract the university has held for more than 40 years.

To date, 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and an additional 12 have legalized the limited medical use of CBD-rich strains of marijuana. Four states, along with Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana, and 19 states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the plant.

The federal government continues to classify marijuana among the most dangerous substances, with "no currently accepted medical use."

The Federal Register notice is open to public comment for 30 days, after which the DEA will make its decision on the proposed production increase.

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