The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has decided to propose a production limit of 1,000 pounds of marijuana in 2017, which is lower comparing to the amount cultivators should produce in 2016. Though it is not the long-awaited decision on cannabis rescheduling under the Controlled Substances Act, the new production limit allows us to assume what to expect from the DEA policy on cannabis' federal classification.
According to the DEA's notice published in the Federal Register on July 22, the licensed growers should produce 472,000 grams of cannabis to meet the estimated needs of marijuana for scientific, research, and medical purposes in the United States in 2017. That is about 1,041 pounds of medical marijuana.
In contrast, the federal cannabis production quota allocated by DEA for 2016 was 658,000 grams or about 1,451 pounds of the substance.
This decrease in cannabis production could be considered as a sign that DEA will not support pending petitions to remove marijuana from the Schedule I list.
However, cannabis advocates and researchers have argued that cannabis' status as a Schedule I substance is a stumbling point in carrying out scientific studies on medical marijuana benefits for people.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testified during a hearing before the Senate that cannabis' status as a Schedule I drug created complexities in conducting research on cannabidiol and that cannabis reclassification would open new opportunities for the investigation of marijuana's potential medical benefits and risks in treating debilitating conditions.
In 2015, FDA already sent a recommendation to DEA for the reconsideration of the current status of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, but the content of that recommendation remains secured.
Marijuana advocates along with cannabis researchers are looking forward to DEA’s rescheduling ruling in the near future. Though DEA reported to the Senate earlier this year that it expected to come up with its cannabis determination till the end of June 2016, the agency still has not released its decision.
Lowering marijuana to Schedule II list would probably lead to a boom in cannabis-related studies. Therefore, if DEA is expecting a decrease in marijuana's demand for research supplies in 2017, it could be an indication that the agency is not going to support pot rescheduling.
However, there might be other reasons for lowering the federal limits of cannabis production for the next year.
According to the Federal Register notice, DEA has been overstating the federal limits by 25% of the estimated demand for medical cannabis in the United States as a part of the amount necessary to establish and maintain marijuana reserve stocks. These stocks are designated to alleviate negative public effects in case of unforeseen circumstances that can cause “substantial disruption to the amount of controlled substances available to provide for legitimate public need.” However, a recent stock evaluation showed that such actions were no longer necessary as the resources are more than sufficient.
Nevertheless, by setting new federal quotas, DEA proposes to lower cannabis production by 28% compared to this year, which raises some concerns among marijuana advocates.
There are 30 days for the public to submit comments on the DEA proposal. After the period is up, the agency will issue its final order setting the federal limits of cannabis production for 2017.
DEA has regularly changed its “final” annual limits depending on the research demand throughout the year. For instance, in 2015, the agency revised its initial one-year quota of 125,000 grams of pot production and increased it twice before the final limit of 658,000 grams was set. Likewise, DEA also revised its initial proposals for 2016. The agency also published a separate notice with a proposal to reconsider 2016 limits for certain substances, leaving the cannabis amount unchanged for this year.
Hopefully, if marijuana is rescheduled, DEA will raise the cannabis limits for 2017 in connection with the expected increase in research demand for marijuana.