Congress Finally Sends Medical Cannabis Research Bill to President’s Desk
The new bill, which seeks to cut the red tape that blocks researchers from studying weed, is also the first standalone cannabis reform bill to ever be approved by Congress.
Published on November 18, 2022

The US Senate just unanimously voted to approve a new medical cannabis research bill and send it to President Biden's desk. And although the bill's scope is relatively modest, it marks the first time in US history that both chambers of Congress have agreed to pass a standalone cannabis reform bill.

The “Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act,” originally introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) way back in 2019, aims to cut some of the federal red tape that impedes cannabis research. The legislation will revise federal regulations “to ensure that research on CBD and other potentially beneficial marijuana-derived substances is based on sound science while also reducing regulatory barriers associated with conducting research on marijuana.”

The Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health will also be required to submit a report to Congress on the potential benefits and harms of cannabis use. This report would require the feds to research the medicinal use of cannabis and to outline the many ways that current federal policies interfere with researchers' abilities to conduct cannabis-related clinical studies. The new law will also protect doctors who want to discuss medical marijuana with their patients.

“There is substantial evidence that marijuana-derived medications can and are providing major health benefits.  Our bill will make it easier to study how these medications can treat various conditions, resulting in more patients being able to easily access safe medications,” Senator Feinstein said in a press release. “This bill will help refine current medical CBD practices and develop important new applications. After years of negotiation, I’m delighted that we’re finally enacting this bill that will result in critical research that could help millions.”

The Senate actually passed this bill at the end of 2020, more than a year after Feinstein originally introduced it. After languishing for another year, it was approved by the Senate again in a unanimous vote this spring. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D) and Andy Harris (R) then introduced their own version of the bill into the House, which was approved with a solid 325-95 vote in July. And finally, the Senate unanimously passed the bill again this week and sent it off to President Biden, who is expected to sign it into law.

“After working on the issue of cannabis reform for decades, finally the dam is starting to break,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “At a time when more than 155 million Americans reside where adult-use of cannabis is legal at the state or local level and there are four million registered medical marijuana users with many more likely to self-medicate, it is essential that we are able to fully study the impacts of cannabis use.”

The bill's bipartisan success suggests that lawmakers have a real shot at passing more substantial reforms before Republicans retake the House next year. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) has apparently given up on his own bill to fully legalize cannabis and instead concentrates on a more modest package of cannabis reform measures. These new measures are certain to include the so-called “SAFE Plus” bill, which would reform federal banking restrictions to allow financial institutions to service state-legal cannabis businesses.

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Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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