A congressional committee has approved a marijuana bill that will allow scientists to finally study cannabis from state-legal dispensaries.
The Medical Marijuana Research Act would establish a simplified registration process for researchers interested in studying cannabis, in part by reducing approval wait times, minimizing costly security requirements and eliminating additional layers of protocol review.
It would also expand the sources of research-grade cannabis that certified scientists would be able to obtain the products.
A move like this may resolve an issue identified by researchers and lawmakers, who complain that marijuana produced at the only existing federally authorized facility at the University of Mississippi is difficult to access and is chemically closer to hemp than cannabis available on the commercial market.
The next step for legislation would be the House floor.
“I believe there are signs that medical marijuana can be beneficial when used the proper setting for treatment of certain medical conditions,” Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), said. “But the truth is, we don’t really have enough research and we don’t really know what it’s about.”
“The problem is we don’t have enough research to convince people that we need to go forward with this as a medicinal product,” Griffith said.
He also noted that he was appreciative that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for “their technical assistance in developing this amendment which adds clarity to the bill’s processes and definitions.”
“I believe that research can answer a lot of the questions we have about using marijuana as a legitimate medicinal tool in our doctors’ cabinets and in our cabinets,” he said.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said during the hearing that, “the researchers at Northwestern University in my district—a leading research institution—have no way to access the cannabis sold at these dispensaries” and the university’s scientists “often face extreme difficulty in securing and maintaining cannabis and federal funding for the research that’s so important.”
The bill would “improve and increase the opportunity for very urgently needed medical marijuana research,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), who cosponsored the bill amendment with Griffith.
“It’s time. We don’t have the data that we need and we need to get the data,” she said. “The federal framework for conducting research and gaining that objective, scientific data on the medicinal properties of marijuana is decades old.”
Researchers currently “must contend with a very heavy-handed registration process, burdensome regulatory roadblocks that greatly limit our understanding of the health effects of marijuana or, quite frankly, let a researcher have access to what they need,” said the congresswoman.
“It’s high time we modernize our nation’s regulatory apparatus to facilitate legitimate medical research into the impacts of marijuana,” she added. “There are a lot of people who would benefit from the use of marijuana, but because they don’t have the research or they think that it’s illegal, they won’t.” One of those people, she said, was her late husband, former Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), who she encouraged to try cannabis but had declined because he felt there wasn’t enough research.
Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) remarked that the legislation “takes us in the right direction by reducing barriers to cannabis research.”
“The bill and the changes included in the [amendment in the nature of a substitute] would create a less onerous registration process for those who want to advance cannabis research and encourage additional manufacturers and distributors to supply cannabis for purposes of research, making it easier for legitimate researchers to obtain products that better reflect the changing cannabis landscape,” he said.