It has been two years since the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it would allow more cannabis growers other than the University of Mississippi to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. But the licensing process for this expansion, which was initiated under the Obama administration, has been jammed up indefinitely ever since U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions took the reins at the Justice Department.
President Trump’s leading law enforcement henchman said earlier this year, “there may well be some benefits to medical marijuana, and it’s perfectly appropriate to study it,” but still he refuses to allow the additional cultivation applications to be dealt with.
Lawmakers have sent the attorney general a number of letters urging him to take action. The latest correspondence, which was signed by Senators Kamala Harris of California and Orrin Hatch of Utah, said, “it is imperative that our nation’s brightest scientists have access to diverse types of federally-approved, research-grade marijuana to research both its adverse and therapeutic effects.”
Sessions has continued to ignore those communications.
It is for this reason that U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz introduced the Medical Cannabis Research Act. The bill is modest by design, as it would only serve to bypass the Department of Justice on the research marijuana licensing deal and put the job in the hands of Congress. The House Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for the drug enforcement efforts of the federal government, recently approved the measure. If it goes the distance, medical marijuana research in the United States could make significant strides from where it has stood for more than the past five decades.
“For too long, Congress has faced a dilemma with cannabis-related legislation: we cannot reform cannabis law without researching its safety, its efficacy, and its medical uses — but we cannot perform this critical research without first reforming cannabis law,” Gaetz said in a statement following the bill’s approval.
“The Medical Cannabis Research Act helps break that logjam, allowing researchers to study medical cannabis without fear of legal jeopardy,” he continued. “This vote will help unlock American innovation and discovery, and help researchers bring the cures of the future a little closer to reality.”
In the weeks leading up to the hearing, cannabis advocates argued that while the bill would bringing about some important changes in the grand scheme of marijuana research, they were not pleased by a provision tucked inside of it that would prohibit anyone with a “conviction for a felony or drug-related misdemeanor” from qualifying for a license.
The issue came to a head prior to the vote, where the combined written testimony from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and the Drug Policy Alliance said, “there is no legitimate health or public safety justification for the inclusion of this language.”
“We urge you to strike this unnecessary, punitive ban on individuals with previous drug law violations,” the statement read.
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Ultimately, a compromise was made. The bill continues to ban felons from becoming a cannabis grower for the federal government, but those with a “drug-related misdemeanor” could still apply. Not all lawmakers were onboard with the idea of eliminating these restrictions, but in the end the compromise was kept in the final bill.
Interestingly, Representative Gaetz, who drafted the bill, testified before the committee that the drug conviction aspect was not included in his original draft. He told committee members that he was urged by people connected to the cannabis industry to incorporate the langue in an effort to prevent riff-raff from having a shot on a license.
The bill, which also includes permission for doctors employed with the Department of Veterans Affairs to discuss medical marijuana with their patients, now heads to the House floor. A seperate House committee recently eliminated this permission from a VA funding proposal.