Congress: Legal Marijuana Supporters & Opponents Team Up on Research Bill

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Some of Congress’s leading opponents of legalizing marijuana are teaming up with its biggest supporters of ending prohibition to introduce legislation aimed at increasing research on the drug’s medical benefits.

The Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016, versions of which will be introduced in both the House and Senate this week, would remove a number of roadblocks that scientists have long complained stand in the way of conducting more cannabis studies, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Most importantly, the bill would allow for private entities to cultivate marijuana for research purposes, ending the so-called “NIDA monopoly” through which only the University of Mississippi was allowed to grow marijuana with a license from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who is perhaps best known for attempting to block Washington, D.C. from implementing voter-approved marijuana law reforms, will be among the bill’s House sponsors. Joining him are Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), two of the chamber’s most vocal pro-legalization lawmakers. Also signing on is Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), who has championed legislation allowing for cannabidiol (CBD)-rich medical cannabis preparations.

“As a physician who has conducted [National Institutes of Health] sponsored research, I can’t stress enough how critical this legislation is to the scientific community,” Harris said in a statement, according to the Sentinel. “Our drug policy was never intended to act as an impediment to conducting legitimate medical research. We need empirical scientific evidence to clearly determine whether marijuana has medicinal benefits and, if so, how it would be used most effectively. This legislation is crucial to that effort because it removes the unnecessary administrative barriers that deter qualified researchers from rigorously studying medical marijuana.”

The paper’s story was deleted shortly after being posted, perhaps because the reporter published ahead of an agreed-upon embargo with the legislation’s sponsors.

A now-deleted tweet from the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

A now-deleted tweet from the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

On the Senate side, the bill will be sponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Orrin Hatch (D-UT), Chris Coons (D-DE) and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

Since 1968, the only legal source of cannabis for studies in the U.S. has been University of Mississippi, which operates under a license from NIDA. Scientists have complained that it is difficult to obtain marijuana from the facility and that even when their applications are granted, the product is often of poor quality.

The proposed legislation would change that by allowing more private businesses to get cultivation licenses. It would also speed up the process through which the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) approves research registrations and would require federal agencies to make other changes to remove barriers to scientific inquiry on cannabis.

“Despite the fact that over 200 million Americans now have legal access to some form of medical marijuana, federal policy is blocking science. It’s outrageous,” Blumenauer said in a statement, according to the Sentinel. “We owe it to patients and their families to allow for the research physicians need to understand marijuana’s benefits and risks and determine proper use and dosage. The federal government should get out of the way to allow for this long overdue research.”

While Marijuana.com has not yet seen the text of the legislation, the Sentinel reported that it “would create a less cumbersome registration process specifically for marijuana research with the hopes of reducing approval wait times, costly security measures and unnecessary layers of protocol review.”

Photo Courtesy of Africa Studio.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Marijuana.com. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

3 Comments

  1. This sounds like another incremental step forward. Now that marijuana is becoming legal it should be much easier to do science properly but the intersection of science and law produces some strange results. Legal states are all moving toward “seed to sale tracking”. Millions of marijuana plants will have RFID tags to ensure they don’t go to the wrong place. I keep thinking how much more useful it would be to track medical outcomes rather than the movement of plants.

    • Lawrence Goodwin on

      I hear you on the “medical outcomes” for sure. A member of my family by marriage, a guy in his early 90s who served in World War II, bought in to the “marihuana is evil” hype his whole life. Then, recently, doctors found a cancerous tumor on one of his earlobes. His son (in his late 50s) procured and applied some powerful cannabis oil on a regular basis and—voila!—tumor’s gone within months, leaving the docs aghast. My two family members just enjoyed another Father’s Day together, very likely because of the little miracles bound up inside female cannabis flowers. The biggest crime here is that federal, state and local bureaucrats have been empowered for almost 80 years to hunt down these “marihuana” flowers and keep them from the people—not to mention the limitless potential of truly amazing cannabis stalks and seeds.

  2. There is more than an adequate number of studies if you don’t insist on American research. Try Israel where THC was discovered years ago. The sientist there has done numorous studies on the medical use of cannabis. Nixon’s study on cannabis, wich he was counting on negitive results prooved that it was safe and should be legalized. (Shafer report) Which he ignored and sent this country into one of the longest wars we have ever experienced, the war on the American people, also called eroniously the war on drugs. It was to harass the hippies and blacks.

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