A bipartisan bill to promote and streamline marijuana research has been scheduled for a House committee vote next week.
The Energy and Commerce Committee announced late on Friday that it will mark up the Medical Marijuana Research Act, which would accomplish two goals: First, it would establish a simplified registration process for researchers interested in studying cannabis, in part by reducing approval wait times, minimizing costly security requirements and eliminating additional layers of protocol review.
Second, it would allow certified scientists to obtain research-grade cannabis from private manufacturers. That could resolve an issue identified by researchers and lawmakers, who complain that marijuana produced at the only existing federally authorized facility at the University of Mississippi is difficult to access and is chemically closer to hemp than cannabis available on the commercial market.
Under the bill, which will get a committee vote on Wednesday, there would be no limit on the number of entities that can be registered to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. It would also require the Department of Health and Human Services to submit a report to Congress within five years after enactment to overview the results of federal cannabis studies and recommend whether they warrant marijuana’s rescheduling under federal law.
The upcoming markup isn’t the only congressional marijuana vote that advocates are following. House leadership recently announced that there will be a floor vote on a comprehensive cannabis legalization bill later this month.
The more limited marijuana research bill is being led by the unlikely duo of pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD. It will be subject to amendments during the committee markup, so its provisions could change.
During an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing in January—which was requested by four GOP lawmakers last year—federal health and drug officials, including from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), acknowledged that the current supply of cannabis for research purposes is inadequate and that scientists should be able to access a wider range of marijuana products.
In addition to the Blumenauer-Harris research legislation, the panel also looked at several other marijuana reform bills during that meeting, including two to federally legalize the plant.
DEA said four years ago that it would be taking steps to expand the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers, but it has not yet acted on applications.
“Legislative action is necessary in this arena because the DEA has proven time and time again that it is not an honest broker in this process,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Despite pledging over four years ago to expand the pool of federal licensees permitted to provide cannabis for clinical research, the agency has steadfastly refused to do so—leaving scientists with woefully inadequate supplies and varieties of cannabis and cannabis products available for human studies.”
“The reality that most high-schoolers have easier access to cannabis than do our nation’s top scientists is the height of absurdity and an indictment of the current system,” he said.
Last year, scientists sued the agency, alleging that it had deliberately delayed approving additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes despite its earlier pledge.
A court mandated that DEA take steps to make good on its promise, and that case was dropped after DEA provided a status update.
In March, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.
The scientists behind the original case filed another suit against DEA, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications.
That was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released in April as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.
But the bill scheduled for committee action next week stipulates that international treaty obligations “shall not be construed to prohibit, or impose additional restrictions upon, research involving marijuana, or the manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana, that is conducted in accordance with the Controlled Substances Act, this Act, and the amendments made by this Act.”
The legislation has drawn support from a broad array of organizations on both sides of the legalization debate, including Smart Approaches to Marijuana, American Psychological Association, Marijuana Policy Project and American Academy of Neurology.