A bipartisan group of lawmakers is trying to attach marijuana and CBD research language to a large-scale defense spending bill that’s on the Senate floor this week.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the amendment, which would promote studies into cannabis and its derivatives, provide protections for doctors that discuss marijuana with their patients and encourage the development of Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs based on cannabinoids.
The senators are seeking to include the proposal—titled the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act—in the annual renewal of the National Defense Authorization Act.
The amendment, which is mostly identical to a standalone bill of the same name that the Senate trio introduced last year, would streamline the process of applying to become a federally authorized marijuana manufacturer for research purposes or becoming registered to study cannabis.
The attorney general would be given a 60-day deadline to either approve applications or request supplemental information from applicants. The bill would also create an expedited pathway for researchers who request larger quantities of Schedule I drugs under already approved investigations.
These changes would address an ongoing concern among advocates and scientists, who have expressed frustration that there is currently just one cannabis cultivation facility that can provide material for studies. The qualify of the products the manufacturer produces has been widely questioned, with one study finding that its marijuana is chemically more similar to hemp than commercially available cannabis.
Further, the amendment contains a provision that would encourage the development of FDA-approved drugs derived from marijuana. Part of that involves requiring the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to approve applications to be manufacturers of these drugs. Manufacturers would also be allowed to import cannabis materials to facilitate research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.
DEA said last year that it is taking steps on its own to increase the number of licensed cannabis cultivation facilities, but it said doing so required new rulemaking. A public comment period on its most recent proposal ended last month.
Finally, the amendment stipulates that it “shall not be a violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) for a State-licensed physician to discuss” the risk and benefits of marijuana and cannabis-derived products with patients. Last year’s standalone version of the bill stated more broadly that it “shall not be unlawful” for doctors to have such conversations. It’s not clear why the language was revised to more narrowly protect physicians from penalties under the CSA alone.
In any case, federal courts have already ruled that discussing and recommending medical cannabis is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment.
“Many parents have had success treating their children with CBD oil, particularly for intractable epilepsy, but there are still too many unknowns when it comes to the medical use of marijuana and its compounds,” Feinstein said when the original bill was filed last year. “Current regulations make medical marijuana research difficult and stifles the development of new treatments.”
Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment that “it is encouraging that Senator Feinstein is interested in engaging in marijuana policy reform,” but “there are much more substantive efforts that could be addressed than a narrow research amendment.”
“It’s my hope that I can soon refer to the senator as a supporter of ending federal marijuana criminalization,” he said.
The standalone bill the amendment is modeled on has been endorsed by mainstream medical organizations like American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Psychological Association and American Society of Addiction Medicine, as well as pro-legalization groups such as Americans for Safe Access, Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies and NORML.
“The medical community agrees that we need more research to learn about marijuana’s potential health benefits, but our federal laws today are standing in the way of that inquiry,” Schatz said last June. “Our bill will remove excessive barriers that make it difficult for researchers to study the effectiveness and safety of marijuana, and hopefully, give patients more treatment options.”
It’s unclear if the newly filed measure will actually be considered on the Senate floor. As of last week, more than 400 amendments to the defense spending bill have already been introduced, and leaders will have to decide which ones warrant spending the body’s limited time on.
On the House side last year, lawmakers filed an amendment to the appropriations legislation that would allow military branches to issue waivers to service members who admit to cannabis consumption when applying to reenlist. It was approved in committee but did not make it into the enacted version of the legislation.
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem.