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University of Mississippi Gets $68M to Grow Pot for the Feds

School has had the honor since 1968
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 25, 2015 1:14 PM CDT
University Gets Millions to Grow Pot for the Feds
This Aug. 19, 2008, photograph shows Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly, who directs the federally sponsored medical marijuana operation at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss.   (AP Photo/University of Mississippi Brand Photography Services, Kevin Bain)

(Newser) – The University of Mississippi this week retained a quiet claim to fame: It will continue to be the feds' sole pot grower, a distinction it has held since 1968. Since then, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (part of the NIH) has grown marijuana in concert with the school and then given it to federally approved researchers, all under the watchful eye of the DEA. Time reports a $68.8 million contract that will see the school continue to do so was awarded Monday; the solicitation notice was issued in late September, and a US News & World Report article published a month prior quoted a rep for NIDA as saying Ole Miss wasn't a given. But NIDA also said Ole Miss made the sole bid when the contract was last awarded, in 2009. Critics say NIDA disproportionately facilitates research into the downside of pot use, and foes of the University of Mississippi contract say its marijuana is of poor quality.

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NIDA required that any bidders have 12 acres for growing pot outdoors, another 1,000 square feet for growing it indoors, and "emergency back-up systems." Everything must be monitored via video and secured in a vault. The Los Angeles Times in May took a look inside that steel vault, describing "50-pound barrels ... brimming with dried, ready-to-smoke weed. ... Large metal canisters ... crammed full of hundreds of perfectly rolled joints [and] boxes of 'marijuana trash'— contaminated garbage that a crafty pothead might try to steal for a cheap high." As for the scientist who has been at the helm of the pot farm since 1980, Mahmoud ElSohly has some pretty conservative views: He's "never ever" tried pot, and thinks no one should smoke it: He favors a suppository that would transfer pot's benefits but not its high, as the rectum doesn't absorb THC. (Here's what actually in pot.)

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