America pushes pot to researchers. (And it’s a good thing.)

Nature examines the recent increase the availability of pot to American researchers:

[D]espite the increasing availability of legal marijuana, scientists have been forced to obtain the drug from a single source — the University of Mississippi in Oxford, which grows pot for research on a campus farm under a contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Now, the university’s monopoly is coming to an end. In an unexpected move, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced on 11 August that it will allow any institution to apply for permission to grow marijuana for research. Nature explains how the policy could transform the study of marijuana.

The DEA says that the change is motivated by a high demand from scientists and a desire to encourage research on pot. “Additional growers mean additional varieties will be available to address the diversity of research needs,” said NIDA director Nora Volkow in a statement.

For decades, research supported by NIDA focused on harmful health effects and the risks of marijuana use. But in recent years, research has uncovered possible health benefits as well. These include the drug’s anti-inflammatory effects and its therapeutic role in treating epilepsy and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

“It’s an incredible pleasure to see the DEA let the science speak for itself,” says Rick Doblin, director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a non-profit organization in Santa Cruz, California, that funds research into these drugs.

“Widespread approval of medical marijuana in many states may have persuaded the federal agency in their decision-making process,” says Trevor Castor, head of Aphios, a company in Woburn, Massachusetts that has NIDA funding to develop a process for manufacturing cannabinoids. Castor thinks that national legalization will follow. “But,” he says, “I’m not sure when.”