NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The sole federally funded marijuana growing facility in the country located at the University of Mississippi is now planning to expand its grow operations in light of new calls for more medical research on the efficacy of the whole plant as well as individual cannabinoids.
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Morgan Fox, communications manager at the Marijuana Policy Project described the facility this way: "The federal grow farm is an agricultural laboratory and cultivation center. It produces marijuana to be used primarily in National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other National Institute of Health (NIH) studies, and to supply the four remaining federal IND medical marijuana patients with their monthly supply of medicine. "
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"We work under a competitive contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse to supply high-quality marijuana and its constituents to the NIDA Drug Supply Program, which provides them to researchers studying their effects," said Erin Parsons Garrett, spokesperson for the facility.
The grow facility and research farm has long been at the center of the ongoing debate about the medical efficacy of marijuana. Now it might be even more in the national spotlight. And depending on how things turn out, one of the new hot if not more federally funded centres for cannabinoid research in the United States.
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After last month's House vote regarding DEA enforcement in the states, the issue of marijuana rescheduling again rose to the national public eye. Matters finally came to a head in the Senate when Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, refused to bring the second attempt to pass a bill matching the House provision to a vote because of the ongoing national political debate over marijuana's efficacy as a medicine.
As a result of this national attention on the issue in Florida, the DEA has now asked the FDA to consider reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. A different scheduling would not only delegitimize DEA oversight in the states on a law enforcement front. It could also free up federal money and perhaps federally funded facilities like the one in Mississippi to expand the grow and research activities in the U.S.
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Per the official policy of the University of Mississippi cannabinoid research center, "The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy does not advocate smoking Cannabis for 'medicinal' purposes or for any other purposes. However, research has demonstrated that active chemicals derived from the plant may be effectively utilized in the development of prescription drugs, which could be advanced to clinical practice according to current pharmaceutical laws and regulations."
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"The DEA has permitted the school to greatly expand its production quota from 21 kg to 650 kg," Fox explained. "This is to facilitate further research into marijuana and its components in the face of heavily increased demand from scientists who are examining the potential benefits of the plant."
NIDA has historically only needed a small supply of the plant, Fox noted, because the organization routinely denied access for any research focused on potential utility for the drug.
"Now that more and more people are applying for access, including large pharmaceutical companies," Fox said.
No matter the specific reason, many industry watchers and policy experts expect research here to at least continue. No other drug is available from only a single governmental source for research purposes. That said, given the sea change in political reality and public sentiment over the past five years alone, the grow farm may have outlived its usefulness.
And not only as a source of legal research crops but the actual research itself.
In the past six months, both Colorado and Washington State have announced state level research projects and plans. This trend could increase on the federal level if marijuana is reclassified after the recent request from the DEA to the FDA to consider the same.
"We could begin to see much greater progress in the field of cannabinoid medicine at the federal level," Fox noted. "If not, researchers will continue to be relegated to the states, where they may not be able to get funding or legal permission."
That said, as Fox noted, "There is increased support at the state level for conducting research."
Despite a changing state regulatory environment however, advocates for drug reform and research such as Fox do not believe that federal policies will change any time soon. Fox also noted that the grow farm in Mississippi might also have limited research utility. Per Fox's assessment, the quality of cannabis grown on the farm is of inferior quality to that produced in states where marijuana is now legal for medical or recreation.
--Written by Marguerite Arnold for MainStreet