FDA took two important steps last week to clarify the regulatory landscape for cannabis products, including CBD products. First, FDA issued a draft guidance on Quality Considerations for Clinical Research Involving Cannabis and Cannabis Derived Compounds. This guidance builds off of earlier guidance FDA has issued about the quality and regulatory considerations that govern the development and FDA approval of cannabis and/or cannabinoid drug products. See e.g., here and here. The draft guidance iterates a federal standard for calculating delta-9 THC content in cannabis finished products, which addresses a significant gap in federal policy regarding those products. While the testing standard is neither final nor binding on FDA or DEA, when finalized it would iterate what FDA considers to be a scientifically valid method for making the determination of whether a cannabis product is a Schedule I controlled substance. Therefore, it may be useful in many contexts, including federal and state cannabis enforcement actions. We encourage affected parties to file comments on FDA’s Guidance, which they may do until September 21, 2020.
Second, FDA sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review a proposal on how FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion over CBD consumer products. See here. While the contents of this guidance have not yet been made public, we forecast that it likely will align with FDA’s past enforcement actions and memorialize the agency’s intent to pursue enforcement actions against CBD consumer product companies that make egregious claims about their products treating or preventing serious diseases or conditions.
Guidance on Considerations for Cannabis Clinical Research
FDA’s guidance recognizes that Congress’s enactment of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (“2018 Farm Bill”) improved domestic access to pre-clinical and clinical cannabis research material that may be used in the research and development of novel therapies. However, currently marijuana only may be obtained domestically from the University of Mississippi under contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. While DEA issued a policy in 2016 to allow for the additional registration of marijuana cultivators for legitimate research and licit commercial purposes, the Office of Legal Counsel in June 2018 issued an opinion finding that such policy violates the United States’ obligations under applicable treaties. However, in March of this year, DEA issued a proposed rule to allow for the registration of additional cultivators of cannabis for these licit purposes. See here.
There is an alternative pathway to the procurement of Schedule I research material which FDA’s guidance does not mention: importation. Researchers may obtain certain Schedule I material pursuant to a federal DEA Schedule I importer registration, and DEA has in the past issued such registrations. See 21 CFR 1301.13(e)(1)(viii).