The House of Representatives just passed a bill to expand clinical cannabis research, marking the second time in two weeks that Congress has advanced a comprehensive marijuana reform bill.
This Thursday, the House voted to approve the Medical Marijuana Research Act (MMRA), a bill that would legally allow scientists to obtain cannabis products from state-legal dispensaries for research purposes. The bill was approved by a voice vote by more than two-thirds of all assembled lawmakers.
The vote comes less than a week after the House approved the MORE Act, a bill to end the federal prohibition of cannabis and provide restorative justice for former pot offenders. But unlike the MORE Act, which was passed along partisan lines, the MMRA has seen strong bipartisan support. Uniquely, this new bill is sponsored by Congressional cannabis champion Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a diehard prohibitionist.
“The cannabis laws in this country are broken, especially those that deal with research,” said Blumenauer on the House floor, Marijuana Moment reports. “It’s a narrow bill that fixes one of many broken cannabis laws. And I want to hasten to add that this in no way negates the need to move forward with other areas of legalization… But this is sort of a foundational question. No matter where you are, there’s no reason the federal government should impede this critical research.”
Harris said that he completely disagrees with Blumenauer about cannabis legalization, but added that he agrees “100 percent that we need to do this research...Now, unfortunately, because of the public policy we’ve had in place with marijuana and its scheduling, [research] simply couldn’t be done. You can’t do it under the current scheduling… This is on us. It shouldn’t have taken so long to get to this point.”
The US government already allows researchers to legally acquire cannabis for research purposes, but the DEA has only authorized one institution to grow weed for this purpose. The University of Mississippi has been legally growing pot since the '60s, but researchers have found that this government grass is notoriously low quality. Not only is it full of stems, seeds, and mold, but the university only makes seven kinds of pre-rolls available – and none of them have more than 8 percent THC or one percent CBD.
Researchers have sued the DEA to allow more facilities to grow research-quality weed, but the case has been entrenched in a years-long legal battle that seems to be going nowhere. The MMRA would force the DEA to license additional growers within one year of the bill's passage. And in the meantime, researchers would be allowed to purchase a wide variety of regulated, safety-tested cannabis products from licensed retailers in many US states.
“These common-sense regulatory changes are necessary and long overdue,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano in a statement. “The DEA has proven time and time again that it is not an honest broker when it comes to overseeing the cultivation of research-grade cannabis. Despite promising over four years ago to expand the pool of federal licensees permitted to provide cannabis for clinical research, the agency has steadfastly refused to do so — leaving scientists with woefully inadequate supplies of cannabis and cannabis products available for human studies.”
“Further, these federally-licensed products do not represent the type or quality of cannabis products currently available in legal, statewide markets,” Armentano continued. “The reality that most high-schoolers have easier access to cannabis than do our nation’s top scientists is the height of absurdity and an indictment of the current system.”
The Republican-dominated Senate has a long history of shutting down every cannabis bill that comes its way, but the strong bipartisan support for this bill might give it a shot at success. Even so, it is unclear whether the Senate will have time to address this legislation in the short time before Congress takes its winter recess.