DEA to boost marijuana supply for research

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is approving a massive increase in the amount of marijuana that government researchers can use for studies due to a growing interest in medical marijuana.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) will now have access to 650 kilograms of pot, after the DEA announced Friday in the Federal Register it is raising the production quota from 21 kilograms. 

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"That's a lot of marijuana," DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said. "One kilogram is equivalent to a brick. So 650 kilograms would look like 650 bricks and would probably fill a cargo van."

The increase comes as efforts to legalize medical marijuana have gained momentum around the country. The move could quiet some critics who say NIDA, a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has been tightfisted with its supply of research-grade pot.

To date, NIDA has conducted about 30 studies on the therapeutic potential for marijuana, the agency said.

"The additional supply to be manufactured in 2014 is designed to meet the current and anticipated research efforts involving marijuana – this projection of increased demand is due in part to the recent increased interest in the possible therapeutic uses of marijuana," NIDA said in a statement to The Hill.

The NIH, which includes the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is responsible for all government-sponsored marijuana research in the country. NIDA studies drug abuse patterns, attitudes toward marijuana and the effects it has on the body.

NIDA has a contract with the University of Mississippi to grow the marijuana, which the agency then uses for studies. With the DEA's permission, the University of Mississippi will now be allowed to grow as much as 650 kilograms of marijuana for NIDA, starting Monday. 

In addition to conducting its own studies, NIDA also funds private research from scientists.

But NIDA has taken heat from many marijuana researchers, especially those interested in studying the drug's possible benefits, who say they face obstacles to conducting their research. 

Some critics have gone so far as to accuse the agency of a purported bias against marijuana use. They say pro-marijuana researchers struggle to obtain marijuana from the agency.