A key U.S. Senate committee says that marijuana’s current federal classification blocks scientific research on its effects—something that legalization advocates have long argued.
“The Committee is concerned that restrictions associated with Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act effectively limit the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain Schedule 1 drugs, especially marijuana or its component chemicals and certain synthetic drugs,” the Senate Appropriations Committee wrote in a new report under the headline, “Barriers to Research.”
“At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs, we should be lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research.”
Schedule I is the most restrictive category under federal law, and is supposed to be reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical value. Researchers wishing to study substances classified there must overcome procedural hurdles that don’t exist for other drugs.
The Senate panel is directing the National Institute on Drug Abuse to “provide a short report on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule 1 substances.”
The directive is part of a report attached to a bill to fund the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services for Fiscal Year 2019, approved by the committee last week.
This isn’t the first time the panel highlighted the problems federal law poses for cannabis researchers. The senators included similar language in last year’s version of the annual report for the health agency funding bill.
Curiously, the language slamming Schedule I’s research roadblocks has been consistently requested by a group whose membership list contains some of the nation’s leading anti-legalization advocates.
But while the Senate committee has approved a number of marijuana reform amendments over time — including measures last month to protect state medical cannabis laws from Justice Department interference and to increase military veterans’ access to medical marijuana — it also recently blocked a proposal to protect banks that work with marijuana businesses from advancing.
And, it also included questionable comments about cannabis and driving, the involvement of Indian tribes in the marijuana industry and cultivation of cannabis on public lands in recent reports attached to other funding bills.
In the new report attached to the health agency bill, the committee also seemed to express concerns about the growing number of states that are legalizing marijuana and the increasing availability of higher potency cannabis products.
“The Committee is concerned with the rapidly changing landscape regarding the recreational use of marijuana–the effects that the drug can have on brain development; addiction; the long-term health effects in both youth and older individuals,” the senators wrote. “The Committee directs NIH to coordinate a multi-Institute approach to increase research related to the effect of increasing delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol levels on the human body as well as the effect of various delta-tetrahydrocannabinol levels on cognitive abilities that are required to, for example, operate motor vehicles.”
And, they want federal researchers to resume tests on cannabis seized by law enforcement.
“Without dedicated funding for this activity, the number of analyzed seized samples has plummeted, meaning that available data is no longer current or robust,” the report says. “The Committee believes that such research, along with analysis of marijuana and marijuana-derived products sold commercially in dispensaries or online, is essential for informing substance misuse and addiction prevention efforts, public health policy, and law enforcement tactics across the Federal Government.”
“The Committee continues to direct NIDA to coordinate efforts with the DEA and other law enforcement agencies to monitor Schedule I marijuana and marijuana-derived products.”
But despite the seeming concern about the effect of state legalization, the panel’s criticism of Schedule I’s roadblocks to marijuana research provides more momentum to the effort to reclassify cannabis under federal law.