Bipartisan senators take on Jeff Sessions over marijuana research restrictions, calling for the Justice Department to stop blocking the DEA from approving new suppliers. On Thursday, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) sent a letter to the DOJ demanding action on the more than two dozen applications the DEA has yet to review.
Is Jeff Sessions Blocking The DEA From Authorizing More Marijuana Suppliers?
In their letter, Harris and Hatch expressed concern that Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department was sitting on a number of requests from growers looking to supply FDA-approved research on medical cannabis.
While the DEA wants to increase the number of authorized marijuana manufacturers, Sessions’ DOJ appears to be holding them back.
Jeff Sessions extreme opposition to marijuana legalization and his public disdain for cannabis users have prompted concerns that the Trump administration would attempt to roll back policies aimed at expanding access to medical cannabis and ensuring states are free to pass their own marijuana legislation.
And those concerns have already proven themselves to be valid. Since becoming Attorney General, Sessions has repeatedly vowed to ramp up federal drug enforcement. He’s ordered federal judges to pursue the maximum sentence possible even for non-violent, petty drug offenses.
Furthermore, on January 4, Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memo adopting a non-interference policy with legal-cannabis states.
What Sens. Harris and Hatch say Sessions is doing, though, is a bit more subtle than all that. In their letter, the senators reference reports that the Justice Department is preventing the DEA from reviewing applications from cultivators.
Unable to authorize new manufacturers, FDA-approved research projects on medical marijuana can source their cannabis from just one grower. Indeed, the University of Mississippi is currently the only grower licensed to produce cannabis for federally-approved research.
Senators’ Latest Bout With Sessions Takes Aim At Expanding Federal Cannabis Research
For as long as Sessions has been threatening a federal crackdown, however, lawmakers across the nation have pushed back.
Sens. Kamala Harris and Orrin Hatch went with the letter-writing approach. But their aim isn’t to get Sessions to back down on enforcement. Rather, the bipartisan senators want to expand federal cannabis research, starting at the source.
Nearly two years ago, on Aug 11, 2016 the DEA announced a series of significant actions regarding medical cannabis research and industrial hemp production.
One policy change aimed “to foster research by expanding the number of DEA-registered marijuana manufacturers.”
The change, the DEA said, would “provide researchers with a diverse and robust supply of marijuana.”
Additionally, the DEA has approved every single application researchers have submitted to use federally-supplied cannabis to conduct “scientifically meritorious” studies.
So despite being the law enforcement wing of federal drug policy, the DEA have in recent years been surprisingly committed to advancing cannabis research.
And according to reports referenced in the letter Sens. Harris and Hatch sent to the DOJ, the DEA would be able to license up to 25 new manufacturers to grow cannabis for federal research, were the DOJ not sitting on the applications.
So Harris and Hatch are merely asking the Justice Department to let the DEA move forward on policy changes it adopted nearly two years ago.
Harris And Hatch Have A History With Cannabis
Both Harris and Hatch have had checkered records on the issue of legal cannabis. These days, Harris regularly denounces the war on drugs as a failure. But during her tenure as California’s Attorney General (2011 to 2017), Harris took no action on drug policy reform.
When Obama’s DOJ raided dispensaries in her home state of California in 2011, she issued a brief and largely deferential statement about “the gangs and criminal enterprises that seek to exploit the definite ambiguities in state law.”
In 2012, Harris laughed at the New York Time‘s official endorsement of legalization. In 2014, her Republican opponent ran to her left on marijuana issues. And despite her public support for marijuana, Harris has yet to sign on to any existing reform bills this year.
Unlike Harris, who’s been more inert on the issue than oppositional, Orrin Hatch has had a dramatic cannabis conversion. The senator has gone from being vocally anti-cannabis to one of the Hill’s most ardent champions of medical marijuana.
The Final Hit: Senators Take On Jeff Sessions Over Marijuana Research Restrictions
Whatever their records, however, Hatch and Harris are putting pressure on a significant choke point blocking medical cannabis research from advancing in the United States.
“Research on marijuana is necessary to resolve the critical questions of public health and safety, such as learning the impact of marijuana on developing brains and formulating methods to test marijuana impairment in drivers,” the pair said in the letter.
They’ve asked Sessions for a commitment that the DEA will resolve the 25 pending applications by August 11.