Congress’ “top legal pot advocate,” dubbed by Rolling Stone, is working with the most vocal opponent of marijuana in Congress to lead a bill that would significantly overhaul the federal marijuana policy currently in effect.
Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon is joining up with Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland to work on the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016, despite the latter leading a block on legal marijuana shops in the District of Columbia in 2014.
The goal of the act is to make it easier for scientists to conduct research into the various medical uses of marijuana. At the moment there are several hurdles making it difficult for researchers to gain access to marijuana and subsequently use it in clinical trials. In addition to that, approval from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and sometimes even the National Institutes on Health (NIH) is needed.
“This bill is about helping people,” Rep. Sam Farr, a Democrat from California who is part of the group introducing the bill alongside Blumenauer, Harris and Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R – Va.), said in a press release. “As more states pass their own medical marijuana laws, it’s time for Congress to reexamine federal policy. This bill does just that by supporting research so policy decisions about the role of medical marijuana are based on science and facts instead of rhetoric.”
Harris, who is a doctor, has a long history of opposing marijuana including vehemently debating against its medicinal use on the House of Representatives floor on May 29, 2014. When the District of Columbia legalized the use of marijuana on private property, among other things, Harris came out and said he thought D.C. “made a bad decision about its own rule” and hoped they may revisit the ruling a few years down the road.
Now, he’s advocating for the passing of the bill because several researchers have told him they can’t do their jobs due to federal restrictions. When scientists wanting to initially conduct research into using marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans, it took them seven years to get full approval from the federal government. Currently, the only marijuana available for use in legal clinical research comes from the University of Mississippi due to a contract the school has with the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
“As a physician who has conducted NIH sponsored research, I can’t stress enough how critical legislation is to the scientific community,” Dr. Harris said in the press release. “Our drug policy was never intended to act as an impediment to conducting legitimate medical research. We need empirical scientific evidence to clearly determine whether marijuana has medicinal benefits and, if so, how it would be used most effectively. This legislation is crucial to that effort, because it removes the unnecessary administrative barriers that deter qualified researchers from rigorously studying medical marijuana.”
The Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016 would do two things. One, it would create a new, less cumbersome registration process specifically for marijuana which would reduce approval wait times, costly security measures and unnecessary layers of protocol review. Two, it would make it easier for researchers to obtain the marijuana needed for studies through reforms in both production and distribution regulations.
In a recent Quinnipiac University National Poll, 89 percent of Americans were in favor of allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes and just nine percent of voters opposed it for qualified patients.
“Despite the fact that over 200 million Americans now have legal access to some form of medical marijuana, federal policy is blocking science. It’s outrageous,” Rep. Blumenauer said in the press release. “We owe it to patients and their families to allow for the research physicians need to understand marijuana’s benefits and risks and determine proper use and dosage.
“The federal government should get out of the way to allow for this long overdue research.”