For many years, the efficacy of marijuana in treating various ailments went untested in the United States as researchers eschewed the drug due to its controversial legal status. As a result, much of the research on marijuana has been done by foreign nations. The State of Washington is hoping to change that by becoming one of the first jurisdictions in the country to offer a license to grow, process and test marijuana for the purpose of scientific research. Lawmakers hope that this approach will provide a legal pathway for research institutions to undertake testing of the drug to determine its treatment capabilities.

Currently, marijuana is approved in Washington for the treatment of a limited number of conditions. Researchers believe that with the ability to legally test cannabis, a host of additional qualifying conditions will be discovered.

Unfortunately, the process to obtain a license for research purposes has been hamstrung by delays and the unavailability of a third-party scientific reviewer. Specifically, Washington law dictates that all research marijuana licensees must have their work verified by a neutral scientific reviewer. It was anticipated that University of Washington or Washington State University would serve that role, but neither institution stepped forward. However, consulting firm Science Solutions has recently been designated as a scientific reviewer by Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), paving the way for potential research licensees to submit their applications for approval.

Marijuana research licensees must be completely separate from the retail or commercial marijuana business. What this means is that existing marijuana licensees are free to apply for a research license but only if the research facility is separate from the commercial cannabis entity. The hope is that existing marijuana licensees can use the research license to develop new strains and to further isolate compounds that make the drug more stable and safer to consume.

In an effort to provide guidance and promote research licenses, LCB has held educational events for prospective applicants. Those events seek to publicize and encourage the much-needed legal research of marijuana in hopes of enticing educational and research institutions. One such institution is Seattle-based Vera Bio Research. Vera intends to use its research license to breed cannabis plants and to study compounds that currently only exist at low levels. Vera hopes that those compounds can then be studied for possible therapeutic uses.

For more information on marijuana research licenses and the application process, contact LCB. The application fee is $250 and can be submitted to the business licensing service online or by mail. Labs that are currently licensed to perform quality assurance testing on marijuana and marijuana-based products may also apply for a research license.

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