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
This post was originally published on July 11, 2015, it was updated on October 5, 2017.