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State Department Confirms Breaking Up NIDA Monopoly Does Not Violate UN Treaty
(Washington, D.C.) - The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the State Department has gone on record stating that the United States could issue multiple licenses for the cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes without violating the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs treaty. The statement came in response to a direct request from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) regarding whether issuing multiple licenses to grow medical marijuana was a violation of the Single Convention. The State Department’s interpretation is at odds with that of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which has always maintained that the treaty only allows a single license, which is granted to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). This has created what is referred to as the “NIDA monopoly on cannabis,” which has stalled medical cannabis research for years.
Senator Gillibrand reacted to the State Department’s position, “For years, the DEA has cited this international treaty as the reason for limiting medical research. Now that the State Department has confirmed this treaty should not be a barrier to expanding research, the DEA should issue new licenses to supply medical researchers and stop letting antiquated ideology stand in the way of modern medical science.”
Researchers have long complained that the University of Mississippi has been unable to produce sufficient quality cannabis to conduct comprehensive research. For instance, a research team, led by Dr. Sue Sisley, required four specific cannabinoid profiles for a PTSD study which she requested on August 18, 2014. On March 24, 2015, NIDA informed the research team that they could not provide the requested strains, and they would have to wait for them to create the standardized strains.
“Marijuana is the only schedule I drug that requires a single government enforced monopoly for access to study it,” said Dr. Sue Sisley. “This monopoly has proven over and over again that they are incompetent and incapable of providing the various strains that are requested by scientists in a timely manner.” In 2015, NIDA itself went on record before Congress recommending the monopoly be discontinued.
In its response, the State Department points out several instances in which the treaty uses plural forms of terms such as “areas,” “plots,” and “cultivators,” which indicates that more than one cultivator could be licensed. While the State Department notes that a monopoly complies with the treaty, it makes it clear that a monopoly is by no means a requirement.
Several other countries have issued multiple licenses to grow cannabis for medical and scientific purposes with no subsequent UN sanctions. Canada and Holland have issued multiple licenses for not only research studies but for medicine made available to patients through their medical cannabis programs. The DEA could potentially license each state with a medical cannabis program, which would bring the state programs into complete compliance with the UN treaty.
“With this news, President Obama should direct the DEA to immediately begin the process of issuing additional licenses,” said Mike Liszewski, Director of Government Affairs for Americans for Safe Access. “Breaking up the DEA-mandated NIDA monopoly would benefit researchers and patients alike, and would not offend treaty obligations.”
The conflict between DEA and the State Department’s interpretation of the treaty makes it appear that the DEA has been blocking research, based on a misunderstanding of international law. The State Department weighing in may force the DEA to finally grant additional licenses to producers for medical cannabis research, something researchers and advocates have been asking the DEA to do for decades.