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Bipartisan Lawmakers ‘Deeply Troubled’ By ‘Unacceptable’ Marijuana Research Barriers That Persist Under New Law



Two bipartisan members of Congress say they are “deeply troubled” with the “unacceptable” lack of progress in implementing a law signed by President Joe Biden that’s meant to streamline marijuana research.

In a letter sent to the heads of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Tuesday, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Andy Harris (R-MD) demanded answers about how cannabis research is being facilitated under the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act that Biden signed into law in December 2022.

The congressmen, who hold diametrically opposing views on broader cannabis policy issues, said the legislation they sponsored represented a “historic breakthrough in addressing the federal government’s misguided restriction of research on the impacts of cannabis,” yet HHS and DEA have not effectively implemented it so far “in line with congressional intent.”

“At a time when more than half of Americans reside in a place where adult-use of cannabis is legal at the state or local level, and there are four million registered medical marijuana users with many more likely to self-medicate, it is essential that we are able to fully study the impacts of cannabis use,” they said. “The American public deserves to know the effect modern marijuana has on the human body.”

The lawmakers said that more than 150 research applications for cannabis studies are pending decisions by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under HHS, while “many more researchers are excluded” due to DEA’s onerous licensing requirements that have “not been adequately updated.”

What’s more, HHS is more than three months past a deadline to submit a report to Congress that outlines federal marijuana research barriers, they said.

“Continued research barriers signal ineffective implementation of the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act,” the congressmen said, listing a series of questions they want HHS and DEA to answer.

  • What is the standard timeline for FDA to issue a decision to approve or deny cannabis-related research applications? How does this compare to timelines for research that is not cannabis-related?
  • How many research licensing applications are pending before DEA? What is the average timeline for DEA to approve or deny license applications related to cannabis?
  • What caused the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to miss the December 2, 2023 deadline to report to Congress on potential impacts of cannabis and barriers to research?
  • What is HHS’ target deadline to transmit this report to Congress?
  • What specific steps are HHS and the DEA taking to ensure that congressional intent to streamline research registration and expand research on cannabis is reflected in updated processes for research application processing and approvals?

The partnership of Blumenauer and Harris on this letter and original bill is notable given the cannabis policy backgrounds of both members.

Blumenauer, who is retiring this year, is a founding co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus who has spent decades advocating for comprehensive federal marijuana legalization. Harris is a staunch prohibitionist who has proactively worked to impede legalization efforts.

Both members have sent opposing separate letters to DEA on another issue: the possible federal rescheduling of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Last October, for example, Blumenauer led a letter to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram that implored her to consider the “merits” of marijuana legalization as the agency completed its review, which followed a recommendation by HHS to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III.

Harris, on the other hand, has pushed DEA to keep cannabis in Schedule I, criticizing what he described as HHS’s “flawed” and “misguided conclusion” that marijuana holds certain medical value.

But on the research question, the congressmen are united in seeing to it that federal agencies uphold the law they crafted with the intent to free up cannabis studies.

In a notice last year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said it recognizes that there are ample concerns among scientists about how they’ve “encountered barriers that have hampered their research” into marijuana under federal prohibition, including “complex” federal regulations and inadequate supplies of cannabis.

That’s why the agency is now seeking to resolve some of those challenges by standing up a Resource Center for Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

Read the congressional letter to HHS and DEA on marijuana research barriers below:

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