Marijuana Research Could Get A Boost With New Bill

Long-awaited scientific research into the plant is a step closer to being a reality.
Marijuana Research Could Get A Boost With New Bill
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Cannabis business owners have long complained about the lack of scientific research in the industry to back their claims of the medicinal properties of the plant. Now a bill that would allow an expansion of medical marijuana research in the United States has cleared an important committee and is awaiting a vote by the full House of Representatives.

If approved by both the House and the Senate, the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018 could dramatically increase the amount of research done on marijuana in the U.S. Thanksfully, it would bypass the need for approval from the Department of Justice, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been accused of holding up further research on medical marijuana.

Instead, Congress would have the power to direct the granting of more marijuana cultivation licenses for medical research on a specific timetable. The DOJ would still oversee the program, however.

The bill was first introduced by Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida. Gaetz had bipartisan support when introducing the bill from 26 other congressmen.

In a statement, Gaetz said the bill “finally allows researchers to study the potential cures medical cannabis may unlock. Further scientific research on medical cannabis could unlock cures for veterans, the chronically ill, and the elderly.”

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Research roadblock

As things currently stand, the only place where marijuana can be grown for research is a University of Mississippi farm. Some researchers have complained about the quality of the marijuana there, as well as the lack of variety.

Congress, in the meantime, is caught in a classic Catch-22. They can’t make a serious move to change federal law regarding cannabis without more research. But they can’t do more research without making a change to the law.

The new bill seeks to solve that problem. It’s very narrowly focused. Essentially, it would put decisions on marijuana research into the hands of Congress, bypassing the Department of Justice. That’s been a major roadblock since Sessions, who is opposed to legalization, took office in 2017 as part of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Related: Here's Why the DEA Re-Scheduling Just One Cannabis-Based Drug Is a Very Big Deal

One big hurdle cleared

Passage by the powerful House Judiciary Committee, which oversees the country’s drug law enforcement efforts, was a significant hurdle. The panel approved the measure by voice vote earlier in September.

Two years ago, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced its intention to grant more licenses for marijuana research, but to this point, nothing has happened. It’s made for a rare bipartisan effort to change marijuana research policy.

For example, senators Orrin Hatch, the Republican from Utah, and Kamala Harris, the Democrat from California, joined together to write a letter to Sessions in late August. In the letter, they urged him to stop blocking efforts for medical marijuana research. When does that happen?

“Marijuana’s impacts are being felt every day across the country—with or without research,” the two senators wrote. “It is imperative that our nation’s brightest scientists have access to diverse types of federally-approved, research-grade marijuana to research both its adverse and therapeutic effects. Such research is the critical foundation of sound policymaking that puts public health and safety first.”

As of late September, Sessions has yet to respond.

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