Lawmakers Tell Sessions To Stop Blocking Marijuana Research

By Tom Angell | August 23, 2017

A bipartisan group of members of Congress is asking U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop standing in the way of increased research into marijuana’s medical potential.

“Over eighty percent of Americans believe that doctor-prescribed marijuana should be legal, according to recent polls,” two Republicans and two Democrats wrote in a letter to Sessions on Wednesday. “It is worrisome to think that the Department of Justice, the cornerstone of American civil society, would limit new and potentially groundbreaking research simply because it does not want to follow a rule.”

The letter references a story the Washington Post published last week reporting that the Justice Department has prevented the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from even acting on applications from researchers who want to grow cannabis for scientific studies under a new program.

Last August, on the same day the DEA denied petitions to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, the agency also established a new procedure to license more facilities to cultivate marijuana for research.

The move was in response to concerns about the lack of quality marijuana available for trials. The only legal U.S. source of cannabis for science since 1968 has been a farm at the University of Mississippi, which is licensed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Researchers have often argued that it is difficult to obtain product from the university and that even when their applications are approved, it is often of poor quality.

However, despite the fact that DEA has already received at least 25 applications to participate in the newly expanded licensing program, it has not acted on any of them. And that, according to the Post, is because top officials in the Department of Justice are impeding the proposals from advancing.

“They’re sitting on it,” an unnamed law enforcement official told the newspaper. “They just will not act on these things.”

A separate DEA insider said the Justice Department “has effectively shut down this program to increase research registrations.’”

In the new letter, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Sessions that they “encourage you to proceed with rapidity on the DEA’s permitting process, as we believe it is in keeping with President Trump’s campaign promises, and the best interests of the American people.”

The lawmakers cite marijuana’s potential to ease the symptoms of PTSD, “which has afflicted many of the heroic men and women of our armed forces,” they write, as well as other conditions.

“The cumbersome and lengthy permitting process, as well as the difficulty of obtaining different types and ‘strains’ of cannabis with which to perform research, have thwarted researchers’ ability to study the pharmacology and potential medical usage of cannabis,” the lawmakers said. “The DEA’s new permitting process of August 2016 does not attempt to change marijuana laws, except for the acquisition of research material. Such a change is small, but will greatly enhance scientists’ ability to perform research, and, as such, it should not be hindered unnecessarily.”

Ending with an appeal to Sessions’s affinity for law and order, they write, “Finally, because we know you to be a man with unwavering commitment to the rule of law, we ask with respect for the DEA’s rule to be followed, and for the permitting process to move forward with all possible expeditiousness.”

See the full text of the lawmakers’ letter to Sessions below:

Tom Angell

Tom Angell is a senior political correspondent for MassRoots. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and is editor of the daily Marijuana Moment newsletter.

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