Congress passes landmark cannabis research bill

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved landmark legislation to expand medical marijuana research, marking the first time both houses of Congress have passed a standalone cannabis law. The measure, titled Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act, received House approval this summer and is now heading to President Joseph Biden’s desk for consideration.

Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, who co-sponsored the legislation in the House of Representatives along with Republican Rep. Andy Hariss of Maryland, underscored the importance of the legislation after Wednesday’s Senate vote.

“After decades of working on the issue of cannabis reform, the dam is finally starting to break. Passing my bill to expand medical marijuana and cannabidiol research in the House and Senate represents an historic breakthrough to address the federal government’s failed and misguided cannabis prohibition,” said Blumenauer, the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, in a statement. “As we’ve seen state by state, the public is tired of waiting for the federal government to catch up. More than 155 million Americans — almost half the population of our country — now live in states where adult use of cannabis is legal.”

In July, the House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 325 to 95, an overwhelming bipartisan majority at a time of intense partisan divisions in Washington, DC. Passing the bill could usher in a new era for marijuana policy in Congress. where other legislation, including a bill giving regulated cannabis companies access to the banking system, awaits Senate approval. In the Senate, where the bill passed unanimously on Wednesday, the bill was supported by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii.

“For far too long, Congress has stood in the way of science and progress, creating obstacles for researchers trying to study cannabis and its benefits,” Blumenauer continued. “At a time when more than 155 million Americans live where adult use of cannabis is legal at the state or local level, and there are four million registered medical marijuana users, many of whom are more likely to self-medicate it important that we are fully able to study the effects of cannabis use.”

The legislation eases restrictions on marijuana research

The bill seeks to relax federal restrictions on research into cannabis, which is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. The legislation streamlines the application process for approval of marijuana-related scientific studies and makes it easier for researchers to understand the potential medical benefits of cannabis.

Under the legislation, the US Attorney General would have 60 days to approve a marijuana research application or to address a request for additional information to the research applicant. The bill also includes provisions to encourage the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to support the development of cannabis-based drugs.

“There is significant evidence that marijuana-derived drugs can and do offer major health benefits. Our bill will make it easier to study how these drugs can treat different medical conditions, leading to more patients having easy access to safe medicines,” Feinstein said in a statement from the senator’s office. “We know that cannabidiol-derived drugs can be effective in conditions like epilepsy. This bill will help refine current medical CBD practices and develop important new applications. After years of negotiations, I am pleased that we are finally passing this law that will lead to crucial research that could benefit millions.”

President expected to sign bill

During his 2020 campaign for office, Biden called for an easing of federal restrictions on cannabis research. And last month he directed the “Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to begin administrative proceedings to expeditiously review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.” In a statement, Schatz appeared to indicate that he expects the President to sign the Cannabis Research Act passed by Congress.

“The medical community agrees that we need more research to learn more about the potential health benefits of marijuana, but today’s federal laws stand in the way of finding those answers,” Senator Schatz said. “Our proposed legislation, now slated to become law, will remove excessive barriers that make it difficult for researchers to study the efficacy and safety of marijuana, and hopefully give patients more treatment options.”

But not everyone welcomes the legislation as a step forward for cannabis policy reform. Shane Pennington, an attorney with cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, wrote in an email to High Times that the legislation “is a terribly horrible piece of legislation that will make research more difficult, not easier.” He explains that the legislation, among other things, makes research into cannabidiol unnecessarily difficult.

“The bill imposes various DEA registration requirements on companies attempting to handle CBD and/or ‘others’ [marijuana] Derivative, extract, preparation, or compound.” However, under current law, neither CBD nor any other “derivative, extract, preparation, or compound” of cannabis that is not derived from marijuana is considered a “controlled substance.” So as of today, you don’t need a special DEA registry to research them,” Pennington wrote on Substack. “By imposing registration requirements for these otherwise uncontrolled substances, this bill dramatically raises the barriers to cannabis research.”

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