UC research involving possession, use, distribution or cultivation of marijuana must comply with all applicable university, local, state, and federal policies, statutes and regulations. This applies to any research conducted in the United States under the auspices of the University of California, regardless of whether or not the research is conducted on a UC campus or UC property.


The federal Controlled Substances Act creates a comprehensive federal framework that categorizes controlled substances into five “schedules.” “Schedule I” is the most strictly regulated category. Marijuana is categorized as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This means that federal regulations do not permit the use, production, processing, sale or growth of marijuana, though there are limited exceptions for research.

In addition to the Controlled Substances Act, which has broad applicability, universities (like UC) receiving federal funds are also obligated to comply with the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and the Drug-Free Workplace Act. These federal laws require UC to implement policies that prohibit the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensing, possession, or use of any controlled substance at UC. Failure to comply could put federal funding at risk.

The federal government currently restricts marijuana research to projects approved by the DEA, but with significant controls (e.g., Schedule I registration, inspections, security, and source limitations). Synthetically-derived cannabis products are outside the scope of this consideration.

The Farm Bill of December 2018 amended the Controlled Substance Act for hemp (defined hemp as less than 0.3% THC by dry weight) and hemp derived CBD products but added regulatory requirements for growing hemp. The August 21, 2020 DEA Interim Final Rule allows for research without a Schedule I license if the end product of the plant being researched has less than 0.3% THC. This allows for CBD (and other) research even if the researcher does not know the original plant source (i.e., hemp vs. cannabis).

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On November 8, 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64, which changed state law to allow adults aged 21 years or older to grow, possess and use marijuana (now generally referred to in state law as “cannabis”) for nonmedical (sometimes referred to as “recreational”) purposes, with certain restrictions. (Possession, cultivation and use of marijuana by patients for the patient’s personal medical use upon recommendation by a licensed physician has been permissible under state law since 1996, pursuant to passage of a previous voter initiative, Proposition 215.)

Proposition 64 did not change existing California state rules that require researchers to obtain approval from the Research Advisory Panel of California (RAPC) (within the state Attorney General’s office) before conducting research projects that involve use of marijuana (as with other research that involves Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substances).

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