United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions made his first public comments in support of cannabis on Wednesday, after more than four decades of public service. Signaling a significant change in the AG's stance on the controversial plant, the notoriously prohibitionist law enforcement official told a Senate panel that he now believes marijuana could be used medicinally, and that the federal government should increase investments in researching its pharmaceutical properties.
According to Marijuana Moment, Sessions made his comments to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies yesterday, where he told legislators that "there may well be some benefits from medical marijuana" and added that it is "perfectly appropriate to study."
"We are moving forward and we will add fairly soon, I believe, the paperwork and reviews will be completed and we will add additional suppliers of marijuana under the controlled circumstances," Sessions said at Wednesday's Capitol Hill appearance.
As states around the U.S. continue to enact comprehensive cannabis reform legislation in spite of federal prohibition, increases in medical marijuana research have often been considered the first step in bringing the progressive cause to a wider national audience. Whether through government agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs or university-lead, DEA-approved cultivation and studies, if federally-sanctioned scientists are able to make concrete, tested claims about the Schedule I plant, logic suggests it would be harder for lawmakers to deny the benefits of legalization.
"Research on marijuana is necessary for evidence-based decision making, and expanded research has been called for by President Trump's Surgeon General, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the FDA, the CDC, the National Highway Safety Administration, the National Institute of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the National Academies of Sciences, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse," Senators Orrin Hatch and Kamala Harris wrote in a letter addressed to Sessions earlier this month.
And with Sessions finally responding with an emotion other than biased disgust to the idea of federal cannabis research, it appears that scientific access to the outlawed drug may come sooner than later.
Concurrent with the Attorney General's newfound compassion for medical marijuana patients is a soon-to-be-introduced bill from Republican Congress members Bob Goodlatte and Matt Gaetz.
According to a report from Bloomberg, the Medical Cannabis Research Act is set to be presented to the House of Representatives before the week is out, and would "increase the number of federally approved manufacturers of cannabis for research purposes, and provide a 'safe harbor' for researchers and patients in clinical trials."
An early draft of the legislation includes language supporting cannabis research at both the university level and through the VA.
But no matter how encouraging the Congressional legislation and the Attorney General's recent soundbites are, Sessions still made sure to cast doubt on one claim from the medical cannabis community. During his appearance at the Senate subcommittee, the AG said he does not think marijuana can combat opioid addiction and assist in addiction recovery. As for the existing research that posits cannabis can cut opioid use by huge percentages, Sessions told legislators that he doesn't "believe that will be sustained in the long run."
Hopefully the Medical Cannabis Research Act will pass quickly and the scientific community can begin using federal funds to disprove Sessions once again.
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