The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) just made a big decision on marijuana.
While it’s not the much-anticipated determination of whether cannabis should be rescheduled under the Controlled Substances Act, the new action could provide a hint about how DEA will rule on marijuana’s federal classification in a decision that is expected soon.
In 2017, licensed cultivators should produce 472,000 grams of marijuana to meet the “estimated medical, scientific, research and industrial needs of the United States,” Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg wrote in a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Friday.
That’s about 1,041 pounds of cannabis.
That production quota is less than the 658,000 grams, or roughly 1,451 pounds, of marijuana DEA allocated for 2016.
The drop could be seen as an indication that DEA will deny pending petitions to reschedule cannabis. Researchers and advocates have pointed to marijuana’s Schedule I status as major roadblock to conducting studies on the drug’s medical benefits. Douglas Throckmorton of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testified before the Senate last year that marijuana’s Schedule I status means there are “additional steps” that scientists wishing to study it must take and that reclassification would expand opportunities for research.
As Marijuana.com first reported last year, DEA has already received a recommendation from FDA about whether to move marijuana out of its current status as a Schedule I substance, though it is unknown what that recommendation entails.
DEA’s rescheduling ruling could come any day now. In a letter to U.S. senators earlier this year, DEA said it hoped to “release its determination in the first half of 2016.” But even though that timeline meant the ruling was expected before July 1, the agency still hasn’t announced a decision.
Putting cannabis in Schedule II or lower would likely lead to an increase in the number of scientists applying and being approved to study it. That DEA is anticipating a reduced need for marijuana research supplies next year could be a sign that the agency has decided against rescheduling.
But there could be other reasons for the decrease in the production quota for 2017.
In the Federal Register notice, DEA’s Rosenberg writes that the agency has been inflating quotas by “25% of the estimated medical, scientific and research needs for the United States as part of the amount necessary to ensure the establishment and maintenance of reserve stocks” to protect against “adverse public effects should a natural disaster or other unforeseen event result in substantial disruption to the amount of controlled substances available for legitimate public need.” But he says that an internal review led to a determination that the inflation is now “unnecessary.”
However, the extra 25 percent doesn’t account for all of the difference between 2016’s quota of 658,000 grams and 2017’s proposed 472,000 grams. DEA is actually proposing to produce 28 percent less marijuana next year than this year.
The public has 30 days to submit comment on the proposal, after which time DEA will issue a final order establishing the 2017 production quota.
In recent years, however, DEA has regularly revised its “final” annual quotas throughout the year as research needs change. In 2015, for example, DEA first proposed that 125,000 grams of cannabis be produced. Then the quota was revised to 400,000 grams before being raised again to 658,000 grams. The agency similarly heavily revised its initial projections for 2016. And in a separate notice to be published Friday, DEA proposes to further revise 2016 quotas for certain drugs, although it leaves the amount of marijuana to be produced this year unchanged.
If cannabis is rescheduled, and research demand increases as expected, DEA could raise the quota for 2017.
Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.