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The DEA Will Finally Help Expand Marijuana Research: Brainstorm Health

Hello and happy Monday, readers. I hope you had a wonderful weekend.

One of the biggest barriers to marijuana research is the reality that, well, it's not particularly easy to research because of existing laws and regulations. But that may finally be changing with a new federal notice announced by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) meant to facilitate scientific and medical research into cannabis as an increasing number of states legalize it.

"DEA is making progress in the program to register additional marijuana growers for federally authorized research, and will work with other relevant federal agencies to expedite the necessary next steps," said DEA acting administrator Uttam Dhillon in a statement on Monday. "We support additional research into marijuana and its components, and we believe registering more growers will result in researchers having access to a wider variety for study."

The agency went on to say that "the total number of individuals registered by DEA to conduct research with marijuana, marijuana extracts, derivatives, and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has increased by more than 40 percent from 384 in January 2017 to 542 in January 2019."

So, why is this important? For one, take a gander at this map from Governing on marijuana legalization across the country. The District of Columbia and 11 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use; 33 states plus the District have legalized, or decriminalized, the use of marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes. And those states include some of the largest in the nation, such as the entirety of the Pacific coast.

This is, obviously, a political issue. But it's a medical and public health one as well. Federal restrictions on marijuana research have made it much more difficult to have an informed conversation on exactly how the drug affects people—although the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released one of the more comprehensive reports on the subject in 2017.

Under the DEA's evolving posture, we'll hopefully get far more detailed information.

Read on for the day's news.

Sy Mukherjee, @the_sy_guy, sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

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INDICATIONS

Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $572 million in Oklahoma opioid case. In a landmark decision, drug giant Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $572 million by a judge for allegedly fueling Oklahoma’s opioid addiction and overdose crisis. “As a matter of law, I find that defendants’ actions caused harm, and those harms are the kinds recognized by [state law] because those actions annoyed, injured or endangered the comfort, repose, health or safety of Oklahomans,” wrote Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman in his ruling. The nature of the ruling shouldn’t be understated—it’s seen as a major inflection point in dozens of cases brought against drug makers and distributors accused of unethical and aggressive marketing practices that have worsened the opioid epidemic. It could, in effect, be one of the major dominoes to fall in these cases (it should be noted that J&J has argued that the case against it is entirely without merit and unjustified by existing Oklahoma law). But, on the other hand, prosecutors were looking for a much bigger payout, in the billions. (NBC News)

THE BIG PICTURE

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