Is the United State government growing marijuana? You betcha, and it has been since 1968 as part of a half-hearted research effort and to provide legal pot as medicine for a limited federal program that only helped scores of U.S. citizens. But the federal government announced last Monday that they’ve approved up to $70 million in new research over the next five years, no doubt initiated by the fact that 23 states currently allow medical marijuana, it’s legal for recreational use in 4 states and the D.C., and municipal, state, and federal politicians – and even presidential candidates – are crystallizing their opinions about marijuana. And with the announcement of expanding funding, it looks like marijuana will finally get the credible research necessary to take the next step – outright legalization.
The federal contract is actually a renewal exercised in conjunction with the University of Mississippi, which has maintained the only legal grow operation in the United States for more than four decades. Awarded by the National Institutes of Health and posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website, the contract runs a maximum of $68.7 million over the 60-month period.
While the small print mandates the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – an arm of the National Institute of Health – spend at least $1.5 million in the 2015 fiscal year at the Ole Miss research facility, it’s unlikely they’ll come anywhere close to that nearly $70 million tab. The NIDA stated that the demand for marijuana cultivation for research is still low at the Ole Miss facility, so we can probably expect around $8 million in federal funds over the 5 years unless demand increases precipitously.
The University started growing back in the 1960s as part of their Marijuana Research Project as the sole source of marijuana used by the Food and Drug Administration for their medical research and New Drug program. That federal program actually supplied government-grown marijuana (legal and free) for a small number of approved patients with severe and untreatable illnesses. At its high point, the New Drug program supplied about 30 patients across the U.S., but was cut to almost nothing under the Bush administration, when it helped only 4 existing living patients who were grandfathered in.
But now, the Ole Miss grow room looks to expand their role as “the only marijuana legally cultivated, processed and distributed by the federal government.” Dr. Mahmoud ElSohy, the leading scientist and researcher at the Ole Miss marijuana lab, reported to the Los Angeles Times last year that they were readying for a 30,000-plant harvest, but it’s unclear how many plants will be harvested in 2015.
The 5-year reinvigoritization of research should be a boon to the medical marijuana movement and further clear the path for state and even federal legalization. Under current antiquated laws, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug, a dangerous substance “with no currently accepted medical use.” However the yoke of prohibition was largely based on false reports, anecdotal evidence, racial fear, anti-immigrant sentiment, and a few powerful men looking to further their political agendas.
But the undeniable fact is now that cannabis has been proven to have vast physical and mental health benefits, from treating cancers to lowering blood sugar, easing pain and stimulating appetite, slow the spread of HIV and lower suicide rates. Now, the federal government is on board with the Ole Miss contract to “develop new methods for growing cannabis plants containing high THC, low CBD; high CBD, low THC; and equal strength of CBD and THC.” THC is, of course, the primary psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana and CBD is the non-psychoactive compound used in medical pot, among other cannabinoids.
It’s a strange pairing – the federal government and marijuana research, one that might be rife with conflicts and controversy depending on the findings. After all, it was the DEA that’s been accused of blocking legitimate medical research for decades. Only time will tell what the Ole Miss research bears, but at least the funding will be there thanks to this new $68.7 million contract.