The US government’s new policy subjecting federally funded research to an open access policy is unlikely to greatly benefit cannabis research, at least in the near term. However, the industry has grown accustomed to overcoming research challenges and may in fact stand to gain from progress spurred in other research areas.

The Biden Administration recently released a memorandum requiring research receiving federal funds to be made available to the public without charge following its publication. The action opens up a 2013 Obama-era policy and comes in the form of guidance – that is, it lacks the full weight of law but rather reflects how best to comply with existing rules and regulations. It includes some key language choices which suggest the policy may be more softly applied than its predecessor. So how might the policy impact on cannabis research?


Limited federal funds for therapeutic cannabis research could be problematic


Cannabis is still classified by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I substance, severely limiting its accessibility to researchers. While cannabis is becoming more widely embraced in research circles, federal funds are limited, with most of the money spent focusing on potential harms.

The policy could therefore have the effect of increasing public awareness of research into cannabis-related harms without ensuring equal access to other research not funded through such channels. This disparity may be exacerbated as publishers who are certain to take a financial hit from the new policy may try to recoup losses by increasing subscription fees on research not subjected to the change, such as industry-funded efficacy research.

That said, it is far too early to tell how the policy change will affect the research landscape in practice. And although research is limited, some therapeutic cannabis research does benefit from federal funding, such as CBD research into pain and inflammation.

Furthermore, legislation has been introduced to improve federal funding of cannabis research more broadly. While a bias may persist towards researching harms, a rising tide lifts all boats, and more funding would likely have some positive impact.


Lower line item for research institutions and greater collaboration could lead to indirect improvements


At a more general level, the policy change will result in lowering access fees for research bodies, as well as promoting greater and faster collaboration among researchers who rely on data and inputs from other scientists. While certain forms of cannabis research may not stand to benefit directly, research into fields such as improving extraction or cultivation methods as well as basic science are likely to make progress.


Unclear how policy change will impact publishing process


While the policy has the effect of prohibiting fees for access, this is just one side of the funding structure. Journals often charge authors publication fees, and with a revenue stream now blocked, these publication fees are likely to increase, according to the administration’s own economic analysis of the policy.

So while research may now be more accessible through the “front door”, exactly how increasing fees to supply the product through the back door might affect publishing practices and research remains an open question.

Clayton Hale CBD-Intel contributing writer

Photo: Louis Reed

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