Congress took very little time to kill an amendment that would have permitted limited federal research into the medical efficacy of cannabis. The effort was apparently killed by the House Judiciary Committee, which is led by Virginia Republican Robert Goodlatte.
It can easily be argued that nothing significant was lost in the demise of this amendment, however. Research permitted by the legislation would have been limited to that conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under guidance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — somewhat akin to allowing the fox to run the hen house.
In addition, the regulations for the proposed new Schedule IR (the “R” indicating research), under which marijuana would have been re-classified if the amendment had passed, would have been written by the DEA. Even more disturbing is the fact that one of the amendment’s sponsors, Maryland Republican Andy Harris, a physician, sponsored the legislation based on his belief that the research would prove marijuana is dangerous and lacks medical benefits.
Harris is the same politician who crafted legislation intended to block the District of Columbia’s recreational legalization. Because D.C.’s law was passed as a ballot initiative (winning 65 percent of the vote), Harris is directly defying the will of the District’s voters — and they aren’t even his constituents.
The bi-partisan legislation was sponsored by two Democrats and two Republicans. Morgan Griffith, the other Republican behind the amendment, was hopeful that the bill would pass and that the medical merits of marijuana would be proven through hard clinical research. Said Griffith after the legislation was killed:
“Andy Harris doesn’t think the research will show anything positive, but I do, and both of us feel willing to take the risk, do the research, and let us use evidence to make decisions. This amendment would have answered the question one way or the other. I think it would have shown it is a valuable medical substance, but now we don’t have the evidence.”
While cannabis research of any type is welcome to a vibrant medical marijuana community and a burgeoning recreational industry, clinical studies conducted by the NIH and DEA would likely have been very limited, may have taken years to get started, may not have involved human subjects, and likely would have used relatively low-quality cannabis from the University of Mississippi farm (meaning the resulting efficacy for test subjects may have also been unrealistically low).
Conservatives and prohibitionists are doing their best to kill off efforts to simply research cannabis to determine if it is objectively beneficial as a medicine. Bills like the bi-partisan CARERS Act, which would reclassify marijuana as Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act, would allow for robust research. Given the short life of the Schedule IR amendment, efforts like CARERS may be in for a bumpy ride.
The unwillingness of Congress to reschedule cannabis to allow any type of research could be interpreted as a conservative effort to prevent favorable research findings from proving the efficacy of the herb. Despite relatively rapid progress resulting in 23 states with legal medical programs in place and Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia having legalized recreational use, the full legalization of cannabis in the United States will be far from easy.
Unfortunately, given the power and money of conservative forces that oppose legalization and the culture of marijuana, national legalization that allows all citizens to possess and consume marijuana is in no way guaranteed.
Photo credit: parameter.sk
Is the end in sight for the gross lack of clinical research regarding medical marijuana in the United States, including human trials, that’s been enabled by the federal government’s Schedule I status of the herb? The short answer: Maybe.
An amendment proposal has been made in Congress for a bill intended to accelerate development of new medicines. If passed, this bill would include creation of a new section of the Controlled Substances Act called Schedule IR. Any drug falling under Schedule IR would necessarily be cannabis, because the category is intended to “facilitate credible research on the medical efficacy of marihuana.”
According to the language of the amendment (note the spelling of “marijuana” as marihuana):
“The National Institutes of Health should initiate credible research on the medical efficacy of marihuana, including cannabidiol, as a treatment for patients.”
The amendment calls for the National Institutes of Health and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to work together to study the pros and cons of the use of cannabis as medicine. This bi-partisan legislation is sponsored by California Democrat Sam Farr, Maryland Republican Andy Harris, Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith, and Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer.
Republican Harris is a unusual sponsor for the bill; he led an unsuccessful efforts to block Washington, D.C. from implementing marijuana legalization. His opposition to the District’s legalization was especially controversial and attracted harsh criticism based on the fact that D.C.’s law was passed by a ballot initiative and, thus, directly reflected the will of the voters. It is possible that Harris is hoping research resulting from the amendment might uncover health risks or other fuel for the war on drugs.
This legislation cites the need for research at the federal level due to the legalization of medical marijuana in nearly half of U.S. states.
“As some States have begun to allow patients suffering from diseases such as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to be treated with marihuana, it is imperative that the NIH, in consultation with the Drug Enforcement Administration, study the benefits and risks of marihuana and its derivatives and whether they are safe and effective forms of treatment for patients.”
If passed, the actual effect of this legislation is unknown. It cannot be assumed that the rescheduling of cannabis, strictly for research purposes and as directed by the federal government, will result in more open research and possibly human trials in the U.S. In fact, the regulations surrounding the new Schedule IR drug category would be written after passage of the law.
And guess who would be writing them? The DEA.
It should be noted that Schedule IR would apply strictly to marijuana research, not sales or any activity regarding recreational applications of the herb. For all uses of marijuana outside of research, the United States government and the attorney general would continue to apply the draconian regulations of Schedule I to their enforcement strategies and activities.
According to the language of the proposed amendment, Schedule IR would be a subset of Schedule I, with the “R” denoting the research focus of this new designation. According to the language of the bill:
“Except to the extent to which marihuana is intended to be used exclusively for research…shall treat marihuana in such Schedule IR as a Schedule I controlled substance.”
Between maintaining the Schedule I status of cannabis for all uses unrelated to research and the fact that the regulations for Schedule IR would be crafted by the DEA, this legislation leaves cannabis patients and advocates with little to celebrate. This bill’s passage would probably result in limited research, most or all of which was conducted by the NIH — and closely regulated and monitored by the DEA. There are also no guarantees of human trials.
Until the passage of bi-partisan bills like the CARERS act — which would re-categorize marijuana as Schedule II — objective, robust research in the United States will largely be a fantasy. Countries such as Italy, Israel, Germany, Spain, Canada, and the United Kingdom will continue to conduct the bulk of clinical studies and human trials involving cannabis.