Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the second highest ranking Democratic senator, introduced a bill on Wednesday aimed at lifting barriers to research into marijuana.
The legislation would not federally deschedule cannabis but would instead move it from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act. It would also assign research objectives to several federal health and science agencies.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration would be tasked with creating a cannabis agenda that lays out top research priorities. That would include studies looking into health conditions that marijuana is most likely to treat and the “long-term effects of cannabis use, including dose-response relationship and the connection between cannabis use and behavioral health.”
Additionally, the bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to build a public data collection consisting of survey information and public medical records to help the government learn about health outcomes related to cannabis and various marijuana products that people use.
Durbin, who serves as minority whip, said that the existing regulations around studying cannabis, a tightly restricted substance under its current federal classification, have hampered research efforts into the plant’s potential risks and benefits.
Beyond rescheduling marijuana, his proposal would also create an NIH research “Centers of Excellence” designation that would allow qualified universities to conduct research into cannabis for 5-10 year periods after receiving just one inspection and approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). As it stands, DEA must grant approvals for each study and researcher involved in the work.
Universities that receive the NIH designation would also be able to cultivate their own cannabis for research purposes, as opposed to relying on marijuana of questionable quality from what is currently the only federally authorized cannabis manufacturer at the University of Mississippi.
“With some form of legalization on the books in over 30 states and now Illinois, I want to lift federal restrictions so we can conduct additional medical research on marijuana,” Durbin said in a press release. “We need a better understanding of promising uses of cannabis for treatment, as well as how marijuana use impacts public safety and specific populations—including children, pregnant women, and drivers.”
Reform advocates said the legislation is commonsense and would address a main collateral consequences of prohibition but argued that given Durbin’s position as a representative of a state that recently legalized cannabis, the senator should be pushing for more comprehensive reform that would also resolve the research issue.
“While more research is important, the congressional debate has shifted so much that senators from all states—especially legal states—should be thinking bigger and looking at” broader bills that Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have proposed, Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment.
“Their bills would enable more research, but would also end federal prohibition and give back to communities impacted by the war on drugs,” he said. “In 2019, this is what reform looks like.”
Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, said he hopes the legislation is “the first step of many that the senator will take to be reflective of the will of Illinois voters.”
“While this bill would represent just one small step for federal policy, its mere introduction is one giant leap for Senator Durbin,” he said.
Just two months ago, Durbin called his state’s medical cannabis program “almost a laughing matter,” much to the chagrin of reform advocates, while also criticizing the federal drug scheduling system. The following month, he signed onto a bipartisan CBD research bill as an original cosponsor. Now, with this new piece of legislation, he no longer seems interested in laughing about the medical potential of cannabis.
Durbin’s new proposal has been endorsed by the Illinois State Medical Society, Epilepsy Foundation, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Parkinson’s Foundation, Michael J. Fox Foundation, American Public Health Association and Chicago Medical Society.
Read Durbin’s full marijuana research and rescheduling bill below: