Can The US Become A Marijuana Superpower Under Trump?

Several states voted to legalize medical marijuana on election day. Stokkete/Shutterstock

Ben Taub 28 Dec 2016, 17:34

Donald Trump may have won the US presidency, but in six of the nine states that were asked to decide on marijuana legalization on election day, more people actually voted for weed than voted for Trump himself. And with medical marijuana now available in more countries than ever before, the coming years could see a massive explosion in cannabis research across the globe.

Yet while America’s budding President-elect may be a little green when it comes to politics, the same can’t be said for his stance on drugs. Given the increasing demand for medicinal marijuana, though, researchers are beginning to wonder if the US could ever become the cannabis capital of the world.

Cannabis Research In The US

One of the Obama administration’s final acts was to allow the DEA to begin handing out licenses for pot growers to produce marijuana for research purposes. This is important because, until now, scientists have only been allowed to obtain their weed from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). However, the strains provided by NIDA are far weaker than those prescribed or sold commercially, which significantly compromises the validity of all cannabis research in the US.

Rick Doblin, the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), told IFLScience that “we can’t use NIDA marijuana for clinical studies because it’s not available for prescription sales. So we have to end the NIDA monopoly.”

Yet in spite of the government’s pledge to open up cannabis research, Doblin says that “the DEA has still not given anybody other than NIDA a license to grow.” And Trump’s intention to appoint the staunchly conservative Jeff Sessions as Attorney General has Doblin worried that the new administration could nip marijuana research in the bud. “Even though the DEA said that it would end the NIDA monopoly, that doesn’t mean that the new Attorney General will follow through on that. So it’s not clear what’s going to happen as far as whether anybody will actually get a license,” he says.

The intoxicating cocktail of science and politics then becomes even more confusing when you add business to the mix. With marijuana now legal in several US states, there’s little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to sponsor research into the drug, since the wide availability of generic cannabis means they can’t control the market.

However, while it may not be worth their while carrying out research on marijuana itself, they can create and sell products that use specific ingredients found in cannabis. “Pharmaceutical companies are going to pick apart the marijuana plant, develop isolated cannabinoids and non-smoking delivery systems, and patent them,” says Doblin.

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