U.S. House of Representatives passed on Monday, April 4, a bipartisan marijuana research bill that would remove barriers to conducting research on marijuana and allow scientists to access cannabis from dispensaries of legal cannabis states.
The Medical Marijuana Research Act passed the House in a 343-75 vote.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) introduced the bill in October 2021. It is co-sponsored by 11 Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, including Rep. Andy Harris (R), known as legal marijuana’s foe but recognizes that science needs to do more cannabis research.
The bill would ease the process by which researchers apply for approval to study cannabis by ensuring a sufficient supply of cannabis intended for research and placing deadlines on federal agencies to consider applications on time. Furthermore, it would also authorize scientists to access flowers and other products manufactured according to state-approved marijuana programs and shelved in dispensaries.
It remains to be seen if, following the House’s vote, the Senate will be able to negotiate a deal on the bill to send to President Joe Biden.
In late 2020, both the House and Senate passed earlier versions of the bill, but it was never taken up in the Senate.
NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a press statement: “These common-sense regulatory changes are necessary and long overdue. Currently, the limited variety of cannabis cultivars accessible to federally licensed researchers does not represent the type or quality of cannabis products currently available in legal, statewide markets. The reality that nearly one-half of U.S. adults have legal access to this multitude of cannabis products, but our nation’s top scientists do not, is the height of absurdity and it is an indictment of the current system.”
Among the bill’s co-sponsors, Morgan Griffith (R), tweeted: “I am glad the House passed our bill today, and I hope this common-sense change to the law will continue to advance.” In a tweet, David Joyce (R) said: “For the sake of patients across the country and USA’s medical superiority across the globe, we can’t allow outdated federal policy to keep obstructing legitimate medical research.”
The House’s vote on the medical marijuana research bill comes after the House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act on Friday, April 1, a bill that would end the federal prohibition on cannabis.
Cannabis research has been limited for years in the United States, although several states have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use. But despite these changes in state policy and the increasing prevalence of cannabis use and its implications for population health, the federal government has not legalized cannabis at the federal level.
Researchers in the U.S. who want to conduct studies on the medical benefits and risks of cannabis are limited from doing so because of the illegality of cannabis at the federal level.
As a result, research on the health effects of cannabis and its cannabinoids left patients, doctors, and policymakers without the evidence they need to make sound decisions regarding cannabis and cannabinoids.
Still, today, the only legal producer of cannabis for research in the U.S. is the University of Mississippi, which grows cannabis with a THC level below the average recreational cannabis, according to an article by Science.
No clinical studies have been conducted on cannabis products purchased from state-authorized dispensaries.
Most studies on the therapeutic effects of cannabis have relied on synthetic formulations of specific cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD.
Researchers can only study the effects of cannabis using plant material grown by the University of Mississippi under contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
In the U.S., studying cannabis DNA is allowed. The government has gradually become more permissive of hemp cultivation due to the legalization of hemp at the federal level through the 2018 Farm Bill. But any study on the basic biology of cannabis with higher levels of THC is strictly off-limits.
In March 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced to review of certain marijuana grower applications that produce cannabis for medical and scientific purposes.
The NIDA dominates cannabis research funding. It spent over $1 billion in cannabis research funding between 2000 and 2018.
However, in recent years, new countries have appeared in the cannabis research space.
Israeli research pioneered the medical marijuana industry. It was here that Dr. Raphael Mechoulam first determined the chemical structures of the active component, known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well as its non-psychoactive counterpart, cannabidiol (CBD), in the 1960s. The country has since sought to establish itself as the world leader in cannabis research for medical purposes.
But also, other countries such as Spain, the Czech Republic, Canada, Uruguay, and the Netherlands have developed advanced research in the cannabis space.