Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he wants to see “more competition” among medical marijuana growers who supply the plant to researchers, in his Wednesday morning testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, asked Sessions to “clarify” the Justice Department’s position on applications from private companies and research institutions to supply researchers with medical-grade marijuana.
“I think it would be healthy to have some more competition in the supply but I’m sure we don’t need 26 new suppliers,” Sessions said.
Hatch, while maintaining that he is opposed to the “broad legalization,” of marijuana, said he believes “scientists need to study the potential benefits and risks of marijuana.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration — which dictates the legal status of controlled substances — announced last year that it planned to increase the supply of medical marijuana available to researchers, potentially paving the way for the Food and Drug Administration to approve a non-synthetic marijuana-based drug.
Prior to the DEA’s ruling, the only supply of marijuana available to researchers was grown at a facility at the University of Mississippi, and many complained that the marijuana was low-quality.
Hatch co-sponsored a piece of bipartisan legislation, the MEDS Act, which is designed to improve the process for conducting research on medical marijuana and would direct the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to develop best practices for growing medical-grade cannabis.
Sessions, however, said today he wants a limited expansion of this program, saying that he doesn’t want the Justice Department to greenlight all 26 applications, and raised questions about how much it would cost the DEA to oversee the operations.
“Each one of those has to be supervised by the DEA, and I have raised questions about how many and let’s be sure we’re doing this in the right way because it costs a lot of money to supervise these,” Sessions said.
Marijuana, both medicinal and recreational, is considered an illegal Schedule 1 drug by the federal government. 29 states, however, have legalized some form of medical marijuana and allow doctors to prescribe the drug to patien ts.
The Justice Department’s approach to medical marijuana is governed by a congressional rider, the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, that disallows the department from spending money to prosecute medical marijuana operations that comply with state law, though it’s not yet clear whether Congress will renew the amendment.
Sessions has hinted at a crackdown on the nascent recreational marijuana industry in recent months.