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Steven Nelson, US News & World Report
The federal government affirmed Tuesday a large increase in the amount of marijuana it plans to grow for research this year.
The Drug Enforcement Administration offered the production bump – from 46.3 pounds to 1,433 pounds – for public comment on May 5.
One person submitted a comment, which was supportive.
“The DEA appreciates the support for this adjusted 2014 aggregate production quota for marijuana which will provide for the estimated scientific, research and industrial needs of the United States,” a Tuesday notice in the Federal Register says.
“The DEA has taken into consideration the one comment received during the 30-day period and the administrator has determined,” the notice says, the increase is appropriate.
The DEA gave preapproval to the increase in late April, citing urgent need for National Institute on Drug Abuse-facilitated research. But, the DEA said in a May notice, all comments from the public would be taken into consideration.
NIDA, part of the National Institutes of Health, grows marijuana for approved research in partnership with the University of Mississippi.
The increase was necessary because the DEA underestimated researchers’ need when it calculated the initial annual quota in September.
In its May notice the DEA said it simply couldn’t wait for public comment before making the correction.
“Due to the manufacturing process unique to marijuana, including the length of time and conditions necessary to propagate and process the substance for distribution in 2014, it is necessary to adjust the initial, established 2014 aggregate production quota for marijuana as soon as practicable,” the DEA said. “Accordingly, the administrator finds good cause to adjust the aggregate production quota for marijuana before accepting written comments from interested persons or holding a public hearing.”
A spokesman for the DEA referred questions about the increase to NIDA. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the uptick in demand. It's unclear how much marijuana has been produced to date this year.
A NIDA official told The Washington Post in May the agency was funding more than 100 grants for marijuana research, including 30 studies of the plant's “therapeutic uses." Critics say the agency disproportionately funds research into the downside of pot use.
DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, who signed the Tuesday notice, is a critic of liberalizing marijuana laws. Leonhart refused to say during a June 2012 congressional hearing if marijuana is less harmful than crack or heroin. In January she criticized President Barack Obama for saying smoking pot is less harmful than drinking alcohol.
"Marijuana is so popular these days with voters, lawmakers and researchers that even the DEA can't continue to ignore it,” says Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell.
But Kris Hermes, a spokesman for the pro-medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access, isn't cheering. He finds the increase "very fishy" and says he cannot recall a previous time the quota was offered for public comment.
Hermes also notes the annual pot-production quota was once higher.
In fact, throughout the Bush administration the quota was much higher. From 2005-2009 the annual quota was about 9,920 pounds, according to DEA fact sheets. Before that, from 2002-2004, the quota was about 1,852 pounds and in 2001 it was 1,100 pounds.
The quota hovered at 46.3 pounds beginning in 2010. Hermes says he doesn’t know why the quota dropped so dramatically that year.
"They still aren't divulging why the quota is increasing and why it's not increasing how much it has in the past," Hermes says. "It's shrouded in secrecy."
About half of U.S. states currently allow marijuana for medical use. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have established regulated recreational marijuana markets. Alaska and Oregon voters may legalize pot under state law in November and Florida voters may adopt medical marijuana. Despite liberalizing state laws, marijuana remains an illegal Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act.