Marijuana legalization at the national level hit a significant roadblock when Jeff Sessions became the U.S. Attorney General. Known for his tough stance on any use of weed, Sessions has openly expressed his intent to crack down on the cannabis industry. However, the attorney general said some surprising words Wednesday morning in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

More medical marijuana research with limits

Speaking to Sessions, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch wanted to know how the Justice Department intends to respond to companies and research facilities that want to send Medical Marijuana to federally approved laboratories for study.

Sessions said more competition is needed among growers, but still wants strict oversight and limitations.

Senator Hatch also opposes expanding marijuana legalization but believes the plant may have some medicinal benefits that need further study. To open the door, Hatch introduced a bill named the MEDS Act in September. The proposed legislation would require the National Institute on Drug Abuse to create specific rules for marijuana growers to ensure quality plants.

Too many cannabis growers

Currently, the University of Mississippi has the only facility in the U.S. permitted to cultivate and supply medical marijuana to researchers. Hatch’s new legislation would increase the number of growers allowed to send cannabis to laboratories.

So far, 26 marijuana cultivators, wanting to get a jump on it, have submitted applications for approval. Fearing a significant cost burden on the DEA to monitor more marijuana growers, Sessions told the committee that the Justice Department doesn’t want to approve that many.

DEA open to medical cannabis

While Sessions may still be opposed to legalizing cannabis, it would appear the DEA is loosening its stance on the drug, specifically medical-grade marijuana.

With the intention of helping researchers develop medicines using cannabis, the agency announced last year that private companies could apply for approval to grow the plant.

Pot industry safe for now

While marijuana remains an illegal substance under federal law, it isn’t likely the U.S. Justice Department will go after the marijuana industry until after the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment expires. Nearly 30 states have legalized pot, and as long as cannabis companies stay within the law, the amendment prevents the department from spending money to prosecute them under federal rules.