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Medical cannabis research bill headed to Biden’s desk

Just over a week after a midterm election that saw voters in two states legalize cannabis for adults, Congress approved the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act. The Act seeks to facilitate federal approval of cannabis-specific scientific research and drug development. It was approved by unanimous consent in the Senate after being initially blocked by a single senator in September. The bill will now go to the president’s desk for early approval.

The vote marks the first time both houses of Congress have advanced stand-alone legislation that would lift the federal ban on marijuana.

The Act provides the Office of the Attorney General of the United States with a 60-day calendar to approve or reject applications from scientists who wish to participate in clinical trials involving the use of cannabis by human subjects. (Protocols must first be reviewed and approved by the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health prior to GA authorization. Those agencies do not have an explicit timeline with which he completes his reviews).

Bill sets a timetable for implementation

Many people know that a federal judge ruled in 1988 that the Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA, intentionally misclassified cannabis and ordered them to move marijuana out of the federally prohibited Schedule 1. Thirty-five years later, no court has reversed that decision — but several courts have ruled that the DEA can set its own schedule and process. In other words, they don’t really have to follow the law, they just pretend to think about it.

This will not happen this time. The Act requires the US Attorney General to request applications from those seeking to grow cannabis for either research or potential drug development purposes, and provides a timetable for the AG to approve those applicants. It also calls on federal agencies, including the HHS, to provide a report on “the potential therapeutic effects of cannabidiol or marijuana on serious medical conditions.”

Under current regulations, the US Drug Enforcement Administration is primarily responsible for reviewing and licensing marijuana growers, and granting Schedule I licenses to scientists who wish to study cannabis in clinical settings. . In 2016, the agency announced that it would expand the group of federally licensed growers beyond the University of Mississippi (which was originally granted a federal license to grow cannabis in 1968). In May 2021, the agency announced that it had reached an agreement with a handful of third-party candidates to allow them to grow cannabis for use in federally approved clinical trials, but progress toward these official partnerships is been slow to materialize.

Unelected federal agents can always slow down progress

For decades, scientists who want to work with marijuana have complained that it often takes years before their research protocols are approved by the DEA, and that the quality of cannabis provided by the University of Mississippi’s cultivation program is of inferior quality and is not representative. of the products available in the state-legal markets.

US Congress Democratic Blumenauer Oregon legalization HR420
Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon

In response to these complaints, members of the House led by Rep. Earl Bluenauer (D-OR) earlier this year passed legislation, HR 5657: The Medical Marijuana Research Act, which allows authorized scientists for the first time to access cannabis flowers and other products manufactured in in accordance with state approved marijuana programs. However, these explicit provisions are not included in the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act.

NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano criticized this omission. “While the Expansion Act is a step in the right direction, the limited variety of cannabis cultivars accessible to federally licensed researchers does not represent the type or quality of cannabis products currently available in legal, state markets,” he said.

“The fact that nearly half of American adults have legal access to this multitude of cannabis products, but our nation’s leading scientists do not, is the height of absurdity and highlights the continued legislative action is needed if we want to more easily study the state legal products that millions of Americans actually use.”

NORML’s political director, Morgan Fox, said: “While the significance of Congress approving the first autonomous cannabis policy reform bill should not be overlooked, in truth, we do not need more research to know definitively that prohibition is a wrong and disastrous policy.”

He added: “That said, this legislation is certainly a step in the right direction that shows that there can be bipartisan cooperation on this issue. We commend Senate Majority Leader Schumer for making cannabis policy a priority and we look forward to passing even more substantial legislation before the end of the current session.”

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