“It’s a Catch-22 that the research is difficult because of the strict rules, and the rules are strict because of the lack of research.”
For years, the most compelling argument that the federal government has had against marijuana – and medical marijuana in particular – is the lack of research. Now, we all know there have been countless studies on the plant from so many different angles it’s not even funny – but these are mostly small scale studies, and hardly any are in a completely controlled setting, which leaves the government considering them invalid.
The problem here is with cannabis’ current status as a Schedule I drug, which makes it nearly impossible for qualified researchers to conduct a large scale, controlled study. It’s taken researchers years just to obtain approval – and then they still have to wait on the federally approved supply of cannabis from the single cultivation facility ran by the government in Mississippi. By the time all that happens, it could be almost a decade before the research can even begin.
It is for this reason that anti-legalization advocate Representative Andy Harris has partnered with Representative Earl Blumenauer to create the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016. This piece of legislation was created in order to allow for medical studies that will be respected by the DEA and FDA to be conducted with less restriction. Overall, the bill has been described by John Hudak (who studies marijuana policy at Brookings Institution) as “a really creative approach by Congressman Blumenauer and his colleagues to effectively reschedule marijuana without having to reschedule it.”
This bill would essentially give the government no choice in the matter – they will have to approve medical marijuana research applications as long as they meet certain criteria. The only way it would not be approved is if it were not in the interest of the public – but they will not be able to make that decision without good proof that it won’t benefit anyone, from the sound of it. The bill also allows cultivators outside of the Mississippi federal cultivation site to provide cannabis and also calls for production of seeds and immature plants as well.
“The federal government must grant an application for [approval] unless it’s not in the public interest, rather than assuming it’s not,” Blumenauer said in an interview. “Reversing that presumption is huge.”
It may seem surprising to hear that an anti-legalization advocate is one of the congressmen sponsoring this research bill, but Harris is still a practicing doctor himself; and although that fact doesn’t change his stance on legalization, it does alter his view on medical marijuana to a degree. For this reason, he got together with a group with dynamic views on the subject to create this bill in order to expand access to federal grants and the federal supply of approved cannabis.
“I think medical marijuana should be much more strictly controlled than it is now.” But, he adds, “as a physician I would never want to deny a medicine to a patient that has been shown, with scientific rigor, to help them.”
This bill does come at a time conveniently close to when the DEA is set to make a decision on rescheduling – or even removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether. While Harris says “I’m not going to wait for the DEA to figure out what’s going on,” I am wondering whether or not the DEA will see this legislation as a reason to hold off on making a decision and respond by leaving cannabis as a Schedule I substance until a few of these new research studies have a chance to be completed.
Either way, this piece of legislation will make a huge advancement when it comes to making medical marijuana available on a federal level. With more researchers gaining access to federal supplies and grants as well as the approval for large-scale research, the chances that cannabis will not become available at the federal level eventually are minuscule. This bill seems to have strong approval from all ends of the pro and anti-legalization efforts – it’s the first step to finally having a definitive answer about marijuana’s medical benefits that even the government will respect.