New legislation being filed this week by a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats — including the chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee — would remove several key federal roadblocks to research on marijuana.
“Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018…the Attorney General shall register…at least 2 applicants to manufacture cannabis for legitimate research purposes,” reads the text of a bill obtained by Marijuana Moment that is slated to be introduced on Thursday with the support of Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).
In subsequent years, the attorney general would be required to license at least three additional cannabis manufacturers annually.
For decades, all cannabis used for studies in the U.S. has been grown at a single farm at the University of Mississippi. Researchers have long argued that it is difficult to access cannabis from the facility, and that the product is often of low quality.
In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration enacted a new policy intended to license more research cultivators, and he agency has reportedly since received at least 25 applications to participate in the new program. But it has not yet acted on any of them and, according to the Washington Post, that is because top Justice Department officials have stepped in to prevent DEA from approving any proposals.
The new legislation would force the attorney general’s hand.
A fact sheet circulated by the office of Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL), the lead sponsor of the bill, says that the existing cannabis research supply is “extremely subpar.”
“It is weak and often moldy, which can cause illness. In addition to being subpar, federally-grown cannabis is scarce; there is not enough product,” the document says.
The new bill would also create a “safe harbor” from federal law for universities and other research institutions that want to study marijuana. And it would clarify that doctors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are allowed to refer military veterans to studies on cannabis’s medical benefits.
Bloomberg first reported that Goodlatte was supporting the bill.
On Tuesday night, Gaetz and other lawmakers took to the House floor to voice support for marijuana law reform.
“Even though VA doctors/staff are not prohibited from sharing information about federally-approved cannabis clinical trials with patients, many VA offices believe mentioning these trials is illegal,” Gaetz’s fact sheet says. “This legislation codifies that healthcare providers at the VA are authorized to provide information about federally-approved cannabis clinical trials, and they are also allowed to fill out forms for veterans to participate in these trials.”
Besides Goodlatte, other initial cosponsors include Steve Cohen (D-TN), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Dana Rohrabacher (R-FL), Karen Handel (R-GA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Scott Taylor (R-VA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Dina Titus(D-NV), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA).
See below for the full section-by-section bill analysis circulated by Gaetz’s office:
Section 1: Title
Section 2: INCREASING THE NUMBER OF FEDERALLY-REGISTERED MANUFACTURERS OF CANNABIS FOR LEGITIMATE RESEARCH PURPOSES
PROBLEM: Currently, all federally-approved studies of medical cannabis get their product from one source, and it is extremely subpar. It is weak and often moldy, which can cause illness.
SOLUTION: this section requires there to be at least three federally-approved manufacturers of cannabis for legitimate research purposes.
The license to be a federally-approved manufacturer would be one year, with the (rare) exception of producers who wish to initiate a multi-year study or clinical trial.
Manufacturers would have to pass stringent background checks and meet a strict set of criteria, including growing at least ten different strains, and being able to test for at least 12 different cannabinoids. We must ensure that federally-approved growers are safe, will not run out of product, and are prepared to meet the needs of current and future researchers.
The strict standards set forth for medical cannabis manufacturers are not applied to other, non-research-based cannabis businesses. Keeping “research cannabis” separate means this legislation does not interfere with federal laws, state laws, or law enforcement. This bill makes no changes to the legal status of cannabis.
By ending the current monopoly on research-grade medical cannabis, and by improving choice among growers, research will be easier and better.
In addition to being subpar, federally-grown cannabis is scarce; there is not enough product. This section requires the Attorney General to annually assess whether there is an adequate and uninterrupted supply of research-grade cannabis.
Even though the DOJ is required to process new applicants for growing cannabis, they have dragged their feet, and a huge backlog of applications has built up. This section requires DOJ/DEA to act on any application to manufacture cannabis within one calendar year.
Some institutions (like universities) want to research cannabis, but cannot do so because cannabis research threatens their federal funding. This section includes “safe harbor” for researchers and institutions studying cannabis, and for patients in federally-approved medical cannabis clinical trials.
Section 3: PROVISION BY DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS OF INFORMATION REGARDING VETERAN PARTICIPATION IN FEDERALLY-APPROVED CANNABIS CLINICAL TRIALS
PROBLEM: even though VA doctors/staff are not prohibited from sharing information about federally-approved cannabis clinical trials with patients, many VA offices believe mentioning these trials is illegal.
SOLUTION: this section codifies that healthcare providers at the VA are authorized to provide information about federally-approved cannabis clinical trials, and they are also allowed to fill out forms for veterans to participate in these trials.
This section also clarifies that VA employees are allowed to receive information about cannabis clinical trials from researchers.
Finally, this section says that VA researchers (who are eligible to research Schedule 1 substances) may do research on cannabis.
This section provides clarity to VA employees, and allows VA researchers to study cannabis.
This bill is not a pathway to legalization, nor does it change the legal status of cannabis. It simply makes it easier to conduct federally-approved research. Many people say that we can’t change cannabis laws without doing more research. Fair enough. This legislation simply makes cannabis research safer, better, and more accessible.