A bipartisan bill to federally reschedule marijuana in the interest of lifting barriers to cannabis research was introduced on Thursday.
Reps. Donna Shalala (D-FL) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) filed the “Expanding Cannabis Research and Information Act,” arguing that the current classification of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act unduly inhibits scientists from exploring the plant’s potential risks and benefits.
For years now, states have been changing their cannabis laws without investing in a better understanding of the short & long-term effects of cannabis on human health.
By rescheduling cannabis and studying it, we can safely bring US cannabis policy into the 21st century. pic.twitter.com/wl5mVYc1iZ
— Rep. Donna E. Shalala (@RepShalala) September 12, 2019
Under the legislation, marijuana would be moved from Schedule I to Schedule III, which would make it easier to access for research purposes.
The bill would also require federal agencies to develop a research agenda within one year of its enactment and designate certain universities as “Centers of Excellence in Cannabis Research” to conduct “interdisciplinary research related to cannabis and other biomedical, behavioral, and social issues related to cannabis.”
The proposal is identical companion legislation to a bill introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) in July.
“This bipartisan and bicameral legislation will improve, expedite, and streamline cannabis research: by rescheduling cannabis to Schedule III, this bill will lessen the conflict between states and the federal government, and by designating ‘Centers of Excellence in Cannabis Research,’ it will help unlock cures for America’s most vulnerable populations,” Gaetz said in a press release.
Gaetz’s involvement in the legislation is no surprise; he’s a vocal proponent of changing federal law to encourage marijuana research. But for Shalala, her sponsorship reflects a significant evolution in her position on cannabis since her time as the federal Health and Human Services secretary under former President Bill Clinton.
Shalala was a sharp critic of the first medical cannabis laws to pass in California and Arizona in 1996, stating that “any law premised on the notion that marijuana or these other illicit drugs are medically useful is suspect.”
She appeared alongside Clinton’s anti-legalization drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, that year when the administration outlined its response to state-level reform efforts.
At that press conference, Shalala said “all available research has concluded that marijuana is dangerous to our health. Marijuana harms the brain, the heart, the lungs and our immune system.”
“Marijuana limits learning and memory perception and judgement and our ability to drive a car,” she said. “And marijuana smoke typically contains over 400 compounds, some of which are carcinogenic.”
Twenty years later, Shalala included cannabis decriminalization in her congressional campaign—tweeting on the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20 that doing so is a “moral imperative.”
Minorities and people of lower-income are 10 times more likely to be arrested for nonviolent marijuana offenses. Decriminalizing marijuana shouldn't just be a policy priority—but a moral imperative. Stand with me in this fight for progressive justice: https://t.co/Qq9eB2DAmk
— Donna E. Shalala (@DonnaShalala) April 20, 2018
Her support for this latest bill, in addition to prior cosponsorship of legislation that would allow banks to service cannabis businesses, is indicative of a broader realignment on marijuana policy among political officials.
“For years now, states across the country have been liberalizing their cannabis laws without making corresponding investments in developing a better scientific understanding of the short and long-term benefits and effects of cannabis on human health,” Shalala said in a press release. “By rescheduling cannabis and directing our national research infrastructure to study and collect data on how it impacts health outcomes, we are not only bringing federal cannabis policy into the 21st century, but we’re also guaranteeing that we do so safely.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) is also a cosponsor of the new legislation.
Read the full text of the marijuana research bill below:
Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem.