Cannabis has been on a steady march toward mainstream acceptance and legalization on a state-by-state basis for more than two decades. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, cannabis has been legalized for medicinal purposes in 37 states, and 19 of those states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized cannabis for adult-use, nonmedical purposes. National polling shows that nearly 70 percent of Americans believe cannabis should be legal at the national level. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have introduced bills with substantial support that would federally legalize and regulate cannabis.
It is clear a tremendous amount of momentum is behind the cannabis legalization effort. However, when it comes to universities, as well as their researchers and students, evolving regulations and bureaucratic scrutiny present significant barriers to cannabis.
Because cannabis is designated as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, universities that accept federal funding have limited options when it comes to cannabis and its use on campus, whether for recreational, medical, or even research purposes.
Even in states where it is fully legal for recreational purposes, such as New Jersey, New York, and Colorado, cannabis is still strictly prohibited on college campuses, to avoid issues arising under federal law. However, cannabis research serves a vital function in a rapidly growing industry, and there is a process for schools to safely pursue this important work without losing their federal funding.
Any college looking to conduct legally sanctioned cannabis research should expect significant bureaucratic scrutiny across government and seek the legal and regulatory guidance needed to navigate the many requirements. At the federal level alone, any research on cannabis or cannabis products will require interaction with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
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