Washington State University Guidance on Cannabis Research, Teaching, and Outreach Activities

For WSU faculty, staff, and students involved in research, teaching, outreach and extension activities

This guidance serves to answer questions on the status and limitations of cannabis (both marijuana and industrial hemp) research, teaching, and outreach activities, including restrictions on student internships, at WSU.

What is Cannabis?

The term cannabis is used to refer to both marijuana and industrial hemp. Marijuana refers to cannabis that is consumed directly for either its psychoactive properties and/or its medicinal properties. Marijuana is defined by relatively high concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and is classified as having greater than 0.3% THC concentration. Industrial hemp refers to cannabis grown with very low levels of THC and is classified as having less than 0.3% THC concentration (on a dry weight basis), which is further processed for fiber and/or seed and then used in a variety of industries (e.g., textiles, bio-energy, food, and manufacturing).

What is Cannabis Research?

For the purposes of this guidance, cannabis research is defined as research that involves the growth, production, procurement, administration or use of marijuana and/or industrial hemp. The term “cannabis” refers to Cannabis spp, tetrahydrocannabinol, and any cannabis derivatives or cannabimimetic agents that have been classified by the U.S. Congress as a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act.

Observational research is defined as research about marijuana and its legalization that does not involve the growth, production, procurement, administration or use of any cannabis product.

Marijuana and industrial hemp are now considered different commodities, and the DEA no longer classifies industrial hemp (less than 0.3% concentration of THC) as a Schedule 1 controlled substance per the 2018 Farm Bill. Marijuana (greater than 0.3% concentration of THC) remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance as classified by the DEA. The 2018 Farm Bill explicitly preserved the FDA’s authority to regulate products containing cannabis, including industrial hemp. Additionally, the DEA will assert jurisdiction over materials derived from high THC marijuana even if the materials themselves contain less than 0.3% THC concentration.


Despite Washington’s legalization of cannabis for recreational use, WSU research, teaching, and extension activities are still subject to the same federal rules and regulations as before the passage of I-502. There is no legal provision for the use of cannabis in research at WSU, except regarding federally legal hemp research per the Federal Agricultural Act of 2018 (commonly referred to as the 2018 Farm Bill, see “Industrial Hemp-Related Research” section of this guidance below), or research on marijuana that is in compliance with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policies and regulations. This federal law applies to WSU and to any research conducted by a WSU researcher in the United States, although there may be some differences in law and policy outside the United States. There is inconsistency within and between federal and state agencies regarding legal use and research with cannabis. This means that WSU must also look to federal law to guide policies regarding research on the use of and the possession of cannabis. This guidance will be updated as laws and policies develop.

As a land-grant university, part of WSU’s mission is to conduct and disseminate research that benefits the citizens of Washington State. Decriminalization of marijuana has significant implications for public health, the economy, agriculture, and public safety. It is within WSU’s mission to engage in research and outreach on issues that have significant public health, legal, and economic impact in our state. The purpose of this document is to inform the WSU community of the University’s current status regarding cannabis research and outreach and the conditions under which both may be conducted.

Summary of the Status of Cannabis-Related Research Activities at WSU

Washington State University faculty may only conduct research that involves the possession, use, or distribution of marijuana if such research is in compliance with already established guidelines set forth by federal agencies, including the DEA (e.g., schedule 1 licenses) and FDA. In addition, WSU faculty may only perform research that involves the possession, use, or distribution of industrial hemp if such research is in compliance with already established federal guidelines and state law (WAC 16.306).

Marijuana is categorized as a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the DEA under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Federal regulations do not permit the use, production, processing, sale, or growth of marijuana, except for medical or research use conducted under special licensing requirements established by the DEA and the FDA for use with humans and animals (for requirements, see the HHSD Notice on 6.23.15 and the NIDA’s role in providing marijuana for research). While the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicated it will not focus its prosecutorial resources on the sale or use of marijuana in states where a well-regulated legal framework has been established, no exemption from the federal regulations has been granted to any state and there is no legal restriction on the DOJ changing its focus at any time.

In addition, WSU is the recipient of considerable federal funding for research, education, outreach, and capital projects. Accepting federal funding obligates the University to comply with the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and the Drug-Free Workplace Act. These federal regulations together prohibit the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensing, possession, or use of any controlled substance at the university. Unlike the DOJ’s stance on enforcement of DEA regulations, there has been no statement suggesting that enforcement of the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act or the Drug-Free Workplace act has been, or will be, relaxed.

Allowable Marijuana Research at WSU Requiring a Controlled Substances License

WSU researchers wishing to conduct marijuana research must register and obtain a controlled substances license (RCW 69.50.372) for marijuana-related drug codes from the DEA to conduct the research, submit an investigational new drug application to the FDA (if using marijuana with human participants), and obtain the marijuana from a DEA-approved distributor. In addition, researchers must abide by all applicable University, local, state, and federal policies, statutes, and regulations.

Industrial Hemp-Related Research

Until the passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, greater than 0.3% THC cannabis (marijuana) and lower than 0.3% THC cannabis (industrial hemp) were both classified as a single Schedule 1 drug. While the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 removed industrial hemp (THC level no higher than 0.3%) as a Schedule 1 drug, industrial hemp continues to be subject to significant controls and restrictions. The DEA will assert jurisdiction over materials derived from high THC marijuana even if the materials themselves contain less than 0.3% THC. Washington State law regarding implementing the 2018 Farm Bill can be found here (Domestic Hemp Final Rule).

Allowable Cannabis Research at WSU Not Requiring a Controlled Substances License

WSU faculty, staff, and students may legally conduct cannabis research without a controlled substances license when the cannabis exists in the form of industrial products, processed plant materials, and animal feed mixtures made from certain portions of the cannabis plant, to the extent that such products and plant materials contain THC but are not used, or intended, to cause THC to enter the human body. The portions of the cannabis plant that are legal in these circumstances include all portions except: the flower tops (buds), the leaves, the resin of the plant, and the non-sterilized seeds.

For example, a controlled substances license would not be required in order to receive extracted DNA samples from cannabis plants for the purpose of analyses such as genetic sequencing or other genomic research.

Observational Research

Research that does not require DEA license and approval for the use of cannabis is allowable, provided it complies with the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act and the Drug-Free Workplace Act and, provided all of the usual requisite approvals for the research are obtained. This would include approval by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) if the research qualifies as human subject research. If the research includes use of animals, IACUC approval will be necessary. Examples include: education and prevention research (epidemiological research on prevalence and demographics of marijuana use; prevention research on effective communication strategies for parents, schools, and communities; risk and protective factors for marijuana use and dependence; effective prevention and harm reduction strategies) and research on societal implications of legalization (effects of legalization and community-level policies on crime, public health, and state economy). Data analysis from cannabis studies is also allowable.

Outreach and Extension Related to Marijuana

Until both federal and state laws concur on the cultivation of marijuana within Washington, WSU cannot provide diagnostic services, recommendations and/or other information regarding the production, management and/or processing of marijuana. At this time, WSU personnel, including student interns, will not engage in any outreach or extension activity that supports marijuana cultivation, should refrain from being in possession of marijuana for diagnostic purposes, and should not visit sites for the purpose of providing any information or assistance regarding the cultivation of marijuana plants.

Creation and dissemination of outreach materials can provide valuable, research-based information to the citizens of Washington State on the social, pharmacological, and health effects of marijuana use by adolescents or communicating with adolescents to prevent marijuana use. Translational information of this type should be peer reviewed before dissemination.

Outside Work

It is likely that University faculty and staff will be asked to engage in paid outside research or other work related to marijuana and industrial hemp. Paid outside work must comply with standard University policies and procedures governing these activities: BPPM 60.44; Faculty Manual (sections IV. D and IV. E).

Some activities, though legal under Washington State law, may not be allowable under federal law without a controlled substances license and fulfillment of other federal requirements. In such circumstances, University faculty and staff should be aware that they are assuming the same risks as any Washington State private citizen who chooses to engage in such activities. Also, because of the University’s obligation to comply with federal laws, University faculty and staff engaging in activities that do not comply with federal law should make no use of WSU resources for those activities. Finally, they should make it clear to all parties that they are conducting such activities as private citizens, not as University faculty or staff. Though they may identify themselves as having a University position, there should be clear and consistent statements such as: “This work was performed as a private individual, not as a Washington State University faculty member. No WSU resources, facilities, or funds were used. No University employees or students participated in this research in their roles as a University employee or student.”

Researchers should consult with the WSU Office of Research for guidance before engaging in international collaborations that involve cannabis. Note that WSU investigators conducting cannabis research overseas have to comply with the laws of the corresponding jurisdiction(s).

Research Funding

WSU researchers may wish to pursue funding opportunities related to cannabis. In addition to the standard issues that may arise for any funding (e.g., intellectual property rights), the following issues should be considered and addressed before applying for marijuana-related funding.

  1. Source of funding. Potential sponsors of marijuana-related research may include federal or state agencies, non-profit organizations, industry, and private individuals. WSU currently does not accept money from marijuana related businesses that manufacture, distribute, or dispense marijuana (Controlled Substances Act-CSA, 21 U.S.C. § 801, et seq.), but private individuals and companies not subject to the Controlled Substances Act can donate.
  2. Research activities. Research with marijuana should comply with the advice and procedures described in this position statement.
  3. Mechanism of funding. The WSU Office of Research Support and Operations (ORSO) is the only WSU office authorized to submit or negotiate proposals to external sponsors for possible grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements on behalf of the University. ORSO ensures that each proposal meets the requirements of the University, sponsor, and applicable federal and state rules and regulations. Funders who prefer to use the gift mechanism should work with the WSU Foundation [WSU’s 501(c)(3) entity]. Researchers interested in cannabis research funding are strongly encouraged to use the sponsored project mechanism, as much as possible, rather than a gift mechanism, even for funding that would otherwise meet the criteria for being handled as a gift.


WSU marijuana research is still subject to the same federal rules and regulations as before the passage of Washington State Initiative I-502. Washington State law regarding implementing the 2018 Farm Bill found here, serves to regulate the research of industrial hemp in the state. As the legal landscape evolves, this guidance will be revised and updated. The University recognizes and wishes to facilitate the interest of its faculty to conduct cannabis research that has significant scientific merit and public health and/or agricultural commodity value. The University also recognizes its responsibility to the people of the State of Washington to proactively engage in research and outreach on issues that have significant public health and economic impact in our state.

USDA FAQs on Hemp

USDA FAQs on Hemp Production

Updated March 2021


For questions related to cannabis research activities, please contact Dan Nordquist, Associate Vice President for Research, at nordquist@wsu.edu.

Guideline reference: ORSO Guideline 15