Legislation /

Senate Passes Bill to Expand Medical Marijuana Research

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill will 'help eliminate red tape hindering cannabis research for new treatments'

Congress will send a bill expanding research on the medicinal effect of marijuana to President Joe Biden’s desk. 

The Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act was passed by the House in July and the Senate on Nov. 16.

It is the first standalone piece of cannabis reform legislation to pass both chambers.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted the bill will “help eliminate red tape hindering cannabis research for new treatments.”

Marijuana is categorized on Schedule I on the Controlled Substances Act, the same category as heroin,” reports Politico. “Schedule I substances are classified as having no medical benefit and a high propensity to addiction.”

Because of its classification, researchers must receive special approval from federal agencies to study marijuana — a process that can take years.

If signed into law, registered institutions of higher education, practitioners, and manufacturers conducting medical research would be permitted to manufacture, distribute, dispense, or possess marijuana or cannabidiol (CBD). The institution would need to be registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Institutions will need to prove “to the Attorney General that there are effective procedures in place to adequately safeguard against diversion of the controlled substance for legitimate medical or scientific use,” according to the bill. 

“On an annual basis, the Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, shall assess whether there is an adequate and uninterrupted supply of marijuana, including of specific strains, for research purposes,” the policy states.

Additionally, the DEA would also be directed to register manufacturers and distributors of either substance who have the intent to commercially produce any approved drug that contains marijuana or CBD.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health will be required to report on “the therapeutic potential of marijuana for various conditions such as epilepsy, as well as the impact on adolescent brains and on the ability to operate a motor vehicle,” per S. 253.

One of the bill’s original sponsors, Maryland Congressman Andy Harris, celebrated the bill’s passage while reiterating his opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana.

As a physician who has conducted NIH-sponsored research, I am pleased that this bill has finally passed and that scientists will be able to research what medical marijuana can and cannot do,” Harris said in a statement. “While there is evidence to suggest that medical marijuana may be beneficial in the treatment of some diseases like glaucoma and epilepsy, only scientific research will prove the veracity of the many claims regarding efficacy for other diseases.”

“Despite lacking much scientific research, over three dozen states have already legalized medical marijuana, and the American public deserves to know the effect modern marijuana has on the human body,” added the Republican congressman. 

Marijuana is legally permitted for medical and recreational use in 21 states. Only medical marijuana use is legal in 16 additional states.

Five states voted on recreational marijuana referendums during midterm elections.

Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, South Carolina and North Carolina are the only state where marijuana is fully illegal according to CFAH.

The bill had bipartisan support in both chambers, with additional sponsors including Congressman Earl Blumenthal of Oregon, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina, and Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. 

In October, President Joe Biden pardoned federal convictions for low-level marijuana possession.

As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden tweeted. “Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach.”

Reducing the barriers to marijuana research was one of Biden’s key talking points during his presidential campaign.

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