Although the federal government has spent decades sandbagging medical marijuana research with its Schedule I dangerous drug classification, there have been some developments over the past weeks that suggest the floodgates are starting to crack with respect to this issue. Not only did a Republican-driven House committee recently approve a bill to expand cultivation licenses for research marijuana, but Uncle Sam is apparently set to import medical cannabis from Canada to study its effects on geriatric patients.
Earlier this week, it was announced that British Columbia-based Tilray Inc. has been given the green light by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to begin importing medical marijuana capsules (containing both CBD and THC) that will be used by scientists at the University of California San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. The goal of the study, according to reports, is to explore whether cannabis-based medicine might be effective in controlling tremors in people over the age of 65.
Although medical marijuana is legal in California, where the study is set to take place, it remains banned under federal law. This means researchers must obtain any and all cannabis to be used in clinical trails from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
But the one and only supplier of government medical marijuana is the University of Mississippi, and they do not offer a wide range of cannabis products like the capsules and oils often seen in dispensaries. Researchers were forced to petition for government to import the pot capsules. It has taken them two years to gain this clearance.
But this situation could change in the near future. There is currently a push in Congress to increase the number of federal marijuana cultivators in an effort to provide researchers with the quantity and quality of cannabis needed to examine it properly.
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee put its seal of approval on the Medical Cannabis Research Act – a proposal brought to the table by U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL). It is designed to give Congress the power to dictate the approval process for additional cannabis cultivation licenses rather than waiting for the Justice Department to make a move.
While this action only pushed the measure to the House floor, it is considered a landmark vote in the history of federal pot reform.
“I think that the hardest vote for Republicans to take on marijuana is their first one,” Gaetz told Rolling Stone. “And so if we can create the broadest area of consensus to democratize access to research, I think, it will get us all thinking a lot more like adults going forward.”
Interestingly, tucked inside the Medical Cannabis Research Act is an amendment that would order federal agencies to establish “good manufacturing practices for growing and producing marijuana.” The provision would essentially direct the DEA, the FDA and NIDA to advise researchers on the best methods for growing marijuana.
Some lawmakers found this provision unnecessary, while others, like committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, called it a “good amendment, which will help researchers develop science and evidence toward the medical potential of marijuana.”
Although it appears the call for more medical marijuana research is experiencing a stroke of good luck, the fight is far from over. The House still has to vote on the Medical Cannabis Act. The bill would then need to be approved by the Senate and, depending on any changes to the language, possibly head back to the House for concurrence before being shipped to President Trump for a signature. It’s a big process, and it’s one that both Democrats and Republicans are fully capable of sabotaging.
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But Rep. Gaetz seems to think the bill stands a better chance at passage this close to the election.
“I would think that before the election it might be a good idea for the Republican Congress to take action on something that has the approval of over 80 percent of the Americans,” he said. “There’s something about the sound of your own gallows being built that tends to focus the mind, and as we’re potentially heading into the minority it might be good for our members in swing districts to show an embrace of science.”
If the bill goes the distance, it would then be safe to say that marijuana for medical research is on the horizon. Until then, the nation remains a slave to the same tired policies that have prevented the therapeutic potential of the cannabis plant from being realized for decades.