Colorado Marijuana Growers Vying for DEA Research Approval

Jacqueline Collins
Two Colorado facilities believe they're on track to become the first cultivators in the state to receive Drug Enforcement Administration approval for medical marijuana research purposes.

After waiting for years, NuVue Pharma and MedPharm Holdings are still chasing DEA approval to grow cannabis for federally sanctioned medical studies. MedPharm, already licensed by the City of Denver and State of Colorado to grow medical marijuana for research purposes, has been waiting since 2016 for a decision on its DEA application, according to CEO Albert Gutierrez.

Since 1968, the University of Mississippi had a monopoly on growing cannabis for federally recognized research, but the quality of the cannabis has been criticized by researchers. Application delays by former United States attorney general Jeff Sessions and the DEA slowed the process to license new growing operations for nearly four years before the Biden administration restarted application reviews in 2021. The DEA awarded a handful of research licenses in May and is expected to dole out more in the near future.

With a bigger research pool and more federal support for cannabis research, Gutierrez believes the long-overdue decision will help his company and others conduct better research on the efficacy of medical marijuana; he plans to study the plant's effect on neuropharmacology and diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, dementia and traumatic brain injuries.

MedPharm is currently waiting on a final verdict from the DEA following some review recommendations by the agency, and the company expects to hear back soon based on the DEA's May announcement.

“If we’re able to conduct research that articulates the medicinal value of cannabis, then we can go ahead with the findings, and that allows lawmakers to create better legislation around it,” Gutierrez says. “It’s been a long process. We’ve heard a lot of the anecdotal information, and now it’s time to apply that research."

Unlike MedPharm, NuVue applied to become a cannabis bulk manufacturer with DEA, sending its first inquiry in 2019. According to NuVue senior vice president Katharine Avery, the lengthy process to apply included providing the DEA with several hundreds of pages of documentation

“They requested a lot of information from us. They look into the facility’s security, what vault will store the research-based cannabis," she explains. "And they also look into the background of the company, including the owner and any individuals that will be in direct contact with the grow.”

Avery says NuVue, too, is waiting on a final review from the DEA with newly found optimism after May's developments. The comany hopes to apply for a research growing license from the DEA in the future, she adds, and a supplying partnership with the Colorado State University-Pueblo Institute of Cannabis Research is in the works, as well.