In April 2022, The House of Representatives approved a bipartisan marijuana research bill that will provide a streamlined process for studying the medical benefits of cannabis. The Medical Marijuana Research Act was sponsored by Republican Andy Harris and Democrat Earl Blumenauer, and passed in a 343 to 75 vote. Blumenauer commented on the bill, stating, “America’s growing cannabis industry operates without the benefit of a robust research program. Instead, we are outsourcing research.”
Only a week before the passage of The Medical Marijuana Research Act, a separate bill was passed in the House which, if passed in the Senate, could lead to federal legalization for the U.S. These reforms and other state-specific reforms are highlighting the need to implement a system for federal research around safety and efficacy of the products on the market today.
Previously, the lack of research regarding the health effects of cannabis acted as a gap for physicians, patients, and lawmakers, all who use research-based evidence to make decisions on access to cannabis and allowable forms. As of today, the only legal grower for cannabis research at a federal level is the University of Mississippi, which grows low THC cannabis for research. Due to the lack of access to legal cannabis for research purposes, most studies on the effects and medical benefits of cannabis have used and relied on synthetic cannabinoid formulations.
In an effort to streamline the process, this bill establishes deadlines for federal agencies to consider applications. Scientists have stated it can take years to receive approval, and once approved, the quality of the cannabis provided by the University of Mississippi will be inferior to cannabis available in state markets. Previously, in 2016, the DEA released a statement that it would start allowing entities to grow cannabis for clinical research purposes. However, they took no further action to either approve or deny approximately 12 applications that were submitted.
This new bill would allow licensed researchers to purchase cannabis products directly from state licensed cannabis facilities, until federally approved producers can provide a sufficient supply of product. Specifically, the bill directs the DEA to register practitioners to conduct medical marijuana research, and requires manufacturers and distributors to supply products for research. It also requires that the Department of Health and Human Services continue to produce marijuana through the National Institute on Drug Abuse supply program. While these producers are becoming licensed and expanding, the rule allowing for researchers to obtain products from state licensed dispensaries is a big advancement for the space, as no clinical studies have been conducted on products purchased from dispensaries.
The U.S. is lagging behind other nations that have dedicated resources to the research of medical cannabis. Israel was one of the first nations to openly allow cannabis research, with Dr. Raphael Mechoulam discovering the chemical structures of THC and other cannabinoids.
In March of 2022, the Senate approved a similar bill titled the Cannabinoid and Marijuana Research Expansion Act. While the senate bill was more restrictive, the passage of both of these bills shows the changing landscape in regards to cannabis prohibition, and could provide the information necessary to persuade lawmakers to create federal regulation around medical cannabis. It is likely that these bills will be consolidated before reaching final approval.
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