university of mississippi growing weed

For years, the University of Mississippi has been the only entity federally licensed to produce marijuana for research . Researchers have complained in recent years that the cannabis produced there is not like the cannabis sold in states where medical and so-called recreational marijuana is legal.

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said Monday it would move forward to expand the number of marijuana growers for federally authorized cannabis research.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Congress have questioned why the Justice Department has taken so long to act. Attorney General William Barr had promised to look into the status of the applications in April.

In its solicitation, the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse mandated a “secure and video monitored outdoor facility of approximately 12 acres” that could handle the “cultivation, growing, harvesting, analyzing, and storing of research grade cannabis,” according to a listing posted on a federal government website. “The indoor facility must be at least 1000 square feet, having controls for light intensity, photo cycles, temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide concentration,” it added.

When the contract solicitation was posted online in August, an NIDA spokeswoman told TIME that the agency was simply starting a new bidding competition since its existing marijuana farm contract was set to expire in 2015.

The contract awarded Monday by an arm of the National Institutes of Health will go to a marijuana research lab at Ole Miss, which has been the sole producer of federally legal marijuana since 1968. The project is ramping up to grow 30,000 plants, according to the Los Angeles Times.

U ncle Sam has awarded the University of Mississippi $68.8 million to grow marijuana and analyze it.

The government said it’s interested in developing new methods for growing plants that contain a variety of different levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical most responsible for pot’s psychological “high” effect, and cannabidiol, a nonpychoactive ingredient claimed in high-profile anecdotes to effectively treat medical disorders like epilepsy.

There are 23 states with laws allowing access to medical marijuana and 18 states that have decriminalized pot, including four states — Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska — that have legalized the drug for recreational purposes. Federal law still classifies marijuana as a drug on par with heroin, LSD and ecstasy.