California Lawmakers Clear Path for Federally-Licensed Cannabis Growers

A bill awaiting California Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature will be the first in the nation to draw a distinction between cannabis cultivation that is regulated under state law, and that which is newly authorized by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Until a few months ago, only one location ever had federal approval to cultivate cannabis for research, and it was at the University of Mississippi. But in 2016, the DEA announced that it would move to register additional growers, and began to accept applications. The rollout was slowed by several starts and stops, which Cannabis Wire covered, but then in May the DEA announced that it was “nearing the end of its review of certain grower applications, thereby allowing it to soon register additional entities authorized to produce marijuana for purposes.” 

One of the first companies to announce that it had been awarded a license, just days later, is Biopharmaceutical Research Company, which is based in California. The DEA would not confirm to Cannabis Wire how many applicants have received preliminary or final approval, but at least two other companies have made such approvals public: the Scottsdale Research Institute, based in Arizona, and Bright Green Corp., based in New Mexico, which received a direct shout out from the state’s governor. 

Cannabis is legal for both medical and in each of these states, but no other legislature has yet passed a bill like AB 1305, introduced by California Assemblymember Tom Lackey. 

In short, the exemption from state law that is outlined by the bill would “clear up the catch-22 that DEA-permitted researchers are in,” Mark Isidro, Lackey’s legislative director, told Cannabis Wire, because “the federal government does not recognize any state cannabis system as legitimate.”

Without such a clear line, a researcher participating in the state’s cannabis program while also holding a DEA license could be seen as “in direct conflict with DEA guidelines” by violating federal law, Isidro continued. “On the flip side, if you choose to strictly adhere to DEA guidelines and grow cannabis in California for research without getting a cultivation license from the state of California, then you would be violating state law.”

The bill contains a few simple paragraphs that make it clear that “activity performed pursuant to a registration with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration” is exempt from the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, “provided that the person engaging in the activity provides the licensing authority valid documentation of their registration with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and the location where the activity will be performed prior to engaging in the activity.”

This summer, the bill received a letter of support from the entire University of California (UC) system, which has cannabis research centers at each of its nine campuses, from the Cannabis Research Center at UC Berkeley to the Cannabis Research Initiative at UC Los Angeles. The oldest such center in the state is the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at UC San Diego, which was established in 2000, soon after the state was the first in the country to legalize cannabis for medicinal use.

In its letter of support, the California universities wrote that “UC researchers have made impressive strides to increase scientific knowledge around cannabis. However, there remain substantial impediments to conducting cannabis research,” adding that, “UC researchers are eager to generate and share further knowledge on cannabis to increase the public’s ability to make informed decisions, help drive the economy of our state, and most importantly, support the health of our citizens.”

The bill also contains language, which Isidro described as a “proactive approach,” that would exempt from MAUCRSA, thus lifting barriers for researchers in the state, “any product containing cannabinoids that has been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration that has either been placed on a schedule of the federal Controlled Substances Act other than Schedule I or has been exempted from one or more provisions of that act, and that is intended for prescribed use for the treatment of a medical condition.”

Newsom’s office confirmed to Cannabis Wire that he “will take action on the bill by the deadline” of September 6.

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