Researchers would be able to study the marijuana that consumers are actually purchasing from state-legal retailers—instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis—under legislation that is moving forward in both the Senate and the House.
Under the reform, which is contained in a wide-ranging Senate bill that cleared committee on Wednesday, a federal report would need to be issued with recommendations on establishing a national clearinghouse with samples of different types of marijuana that scientists from non-legal states could obtain for studies.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s move comes one week after a House panel also approved a transportation bill that included substantively identical provisions.
Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) sponsored the amendment that contains these reforms, and he argued that the changes are necessary in order to promote research into impaired driving and create a national standard for addressing such activity.
Colorado led the way on marijuana legalization, but we’re still hamstrung by federal laws.
I’m working to lift outdated restrictions to help pave the way for a national standard to prevent marijuana-impaired driving. Glad our amendment passed out of the Commerce Committee today.
— Senator John Hickenlooper (@SenatorHick) June 17, 2021
“Colorado led the way on marijuana legalization,” Hickenlooper said in a press release. “The federal government needs to catch up by lifting outdated restrictions on the scientific study of cannabis so we can prevent driving while high.”
The Senate panel approved Hickenlooper’s proposal as part of an unanimous vote for a broad package of amendments to a transportation-focused bill.
The cannabis-focused amendment mandates that the Transportation Secretary would need to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Justice Department to develop a public report within two years of the bill’s enactment that includes recommendations on allowing scientists to access retail-level marijuana to study impaired driving.
It must further contain a recommendation on establishing a national clearinghouse to “collect and distribute samples and strains of marijuana for scientific research that includes marijuana and products containing marijuana lawfully available to patients or consumers in a State on a retail basis.”
The report must also broadly examine “statutory and regulatory barriers” to research into marijuana impaired driving.
The transportation legislation as introduced also contains a separate section that would require legal marijuana states—and only those states—to consider methods of educating people about and discouraging impaired driving from cannabis. Advocates take issue with that language simply because it targets legalized jurisdictions while ignoring the fact that marijuana-impaired driving takes place regardless of its legal status.
An earlier version of the transportation bill cleared the House last Congress with identical marijuana provisions but did not advance in the GOP-controlled Senate.
But since the bill’s initial introduction last year, some steps have been taken to resolve that issue. Most notably, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently notified several companies that it is moving toward approving their applications to become federally authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.
That marks a significant development—and one of the first cannabis-related moves to come out of the Biden administration. There is currently a monopoly on federal cannabis cultivation, with the University of Mississippi having operated the only approved facility for the past half-century.
But that move from DEA would still not free up researchers to access marijuana products from state-legal retailers in the way the transportation bills would allow if it is enacted.
While advocates are supportive of measures to reduce impaired driving, some have raised issues with the implication that legalizing cannabis increases the risk of people driving while under the influence. Research isn’t settled on that subject.
A federally funded study recently promoted by the National Institute of Justice also found that the amount of THC in a person’s system after consuming marijuana is not an accurate predictor of impairment.
Read the text of Hickenlooper’s marijuana research amendment below: