After a year that was mostly focused on Coronavirus relief bills, Congress finally moved on a few cannabis bills before the end of 2020. The U.S. Senate recently unanimously approved a marijuana research bill called the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act. The bill, will most importantly, make a more streamlined process for those looking to research medical marijuana.
“Our bill will remove excessive barriers that make it difficult for researchers to study the effectiveness and safety of marijuana, and hopefully, give patients more treatment options,” Senator Brian Schatz told High Times. “The medical community agrees that we need more research to learn about marijuana’s potential health benefits, but our federal laws today are standing in the way.”
Another Historic Vote Will End Federal Restrictions on Cannabis Research
2020 has been a big win for cannabis activists who have worked for decades toward cannabis reform. The recent House of Representatives’ vote on the MORE Act was followed by them passing a measure similar to the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act. Now, the Senate, normally more conservative, especially on cannabis related issues, has unanimously voted to approve this research bill.
“Existing regulations make medical marijuana research difficult and have prevented us from understanding exactly how medical marijuana can be used safely and effectively to treat various conditions,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein. “Our bill streamlines the research process and paves the way for marijuana-derived medications that are FDA-approved to treat serious medical conditions, like intractable epilepsy, in a way that will keep consumers safe.”
One of the biggest barriers between researchers and learning about medical marijuana is federal restrictions. Most of these restrictions are imposed because cannabis is considered a Schedule I drug, meaning most dangerous with no known medicinal value. Now, we all know that’s not true and it seems the U.S. Congress is finally realizing that as well.
This bill, if it becomes law, would expedite the approval process for researchers looking to study cannabis or its derivatives. It also streamlines the development of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications made with marijuana or CBD.
This is done by allowing accredited medical and osteopathic schools, practitioners, research institutions and manufacturers with a Schedule I registration to produce marijuana for their own research. Considering lack of access to quality product is another common problem researchers run into, this could be a game changer for researchers.
The Bill Also Allows Physicians to Talk About Medical Marijuana
Another provision included in the bill is that it would allow doctors to discuss potential benefits and risks of marijuana treatments, including CBD treatments, with their patients and parents of minors in their care.
This is important for a number of reasons, but partly because many patients are afraid to discuss medical marijuana with their doctor, especially when it is not yet legal in their state. It should also mean that patients under VA physician care or who are covered under workman’s compensation can also discuss potential marijuana treatments without concern.
“It will empower the FDA to analyze CBD and medical marijuana products in a safe and responsible way so that the American public can decide whether to utilize them in the future based on sound scientific data,” Senator Chuck Grassley said according to Marijuana Moment. “Researching marijuana is widely supported by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and it’s a smart step forward in addressing this current schedule I drug.”
The bill also requires that the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health submit reports on the potential benefits and harms of marijuana use within one year of the bill’s effective date. Overall, it is aimed to do exactly what the title says – expand research opportunities for marijuana and CBD.
Will the Senate Use this as an Excuse to Delay the MORE Act?
Of course, for years lawmakers have used the lack of research as their excuse to hold off on moving forward with any marijuana related policy reform. When almost all the U.S. allows medical marijuana and thousands of studies have been conducted on the small scale, they’ve realized they must do something. It seems their solution is to create a pathway to government regulated and FDA approved medical marijuana medications.
“Last night’s vote signals that the Senate is finally ready to have a serious conversation about helping patients suffering from conditions ranging from chronic pain to PTSD explore new approaches to medicine,” said Dustin McDonald, interim policy director of Americans for Safe Access said in a press release.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Congress has used the passage of one bill to overshadow another. The MORE Act would decriminalize cannabis on a federal level, and the ball is in the Senate’s court with this one now.
Will the Senate use the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act to delay their vote on the MORE Act? Leafwell will keep you updated as the situation with federal cannabis policy reform continues to develop.
Senate Cannabis News – February 2021
To kick off February 2021, Democratic Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Ron Wyden (OR) and Chuck Schumer (NY) issued a shared press release promising a coordinated push to introduce and enact comprehensive cannabis reform in both houses of the newly Democrat controlled Congress.
The Booker, Wyden and Schumer communal statement is couched in language familiar to anyone who has followed the efforts of cannabis legalization activists over the past few decades: “The War on Drugs has been a war on people—particularly people of color. Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country. But that alone is not enough. As states continue to legalize marijuana, we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs.”
The three senators suggest that measures to “ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations” are all on their agenda.
The influential senatorial Democrats were mum on the odds of President Joe Biden, a Democrat freshly installed in the Oval Office, signing marijuana reform into law. During the 1980s and 1990s, Biden was a commanding officer in the War on Drugs.
As a Democratic senator, Biden favored harsh prison sentences for people struggling with addiction and the death penalty for selling drugs. In 1989, Biden assured the National Press Club: “There are almost a million [cocaine] addicts running around out there. Already hooked. Already under. Already robbing you. Already breaking into your homes. And there is no answer for those folks but to put them in jail permanently.”
The year is 2021. The Democrats have taken the House, Senate and Oval Office of the United States federal government. Seemingly, now is the best opportunity adult use marijuana has ever had for national legalization.
Keep your fingers crossed. But don’t hold your breath.