This Thursday, the US Senate signed off on the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act, a bill that would make it easier for researchers to conduct medical cannabis and CBD research. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) originally introduced this bill back in 2019, and the Senate passed it at the end of 2020. This year, the bill cleared the Senate again with a unanimous vote, without one single minute of debate.
“Current rules and regulations make it hard for researchers to study how marijuana and marijuana-derived medications can best be used to treat various conditions,” Sen. Feinstein explained in a press release. “This important legislation will cut the red tape around the research process, helping get FDA-approved, marijuana-derived medications safely to patients.”
Specifically, the proposal would direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct an official study exploring the potential health benefits of cannabis. The HHS would also be tasked with preparing a second report detailing how current federal policies interfere with researchers' ability to conduct clinical studies using high-quality cannabis. The bill would also make it legal for doctors to discuss medical marijuana with their patients.
“This bipartisan bill is critical to better understanding the marijuana plant and its potential benefits and side effects,” Sen. Grassley said. “It will empower the FDA to analyze CBD and medical marijuana products in a safe and responsible way so that the American public can decide whether to utilize them in the future based on sound scientific data. Researching marijuana is widely supported by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and it’s a smart step forward in addressing this current schedule I drug.”
The research bill would direct the FDA to streamline its regulations on the research and approval of cannabis-based medicines. If the bill is passed, the FDA would be required to grant research institutions that are already authorized to handle Schedule I drugs licenses to grow their own weed for research. The bill would also force the DEA to approve applications for companies that plan to manufacture FDA-approved cannabis medicines.
On the very same day that the Senate approved the research bill, the House scheduled a vote for the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act for next week. This landmark legislation would completely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, effectively preventing the feds from taking any punitive action against states that choose to legalize. The bill would also impose a federal tax on state-legal weed sales, which would be used to fund community reinvestment and criminal expungement programs.
The House already passed the MORE Act in 2020, so they are likely to approve it again next week. But even if they do, the bill has almost no chance of advancing to the Senate, since Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is fighting for his own legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). And if neither of these bills succeeds, Republicans have sponsored their own limited legalization proposal.
“Advancing this legislation to deschedule marijuana and to help those individuals and communities that have borne the brunt of America’s failed prohibition is pivotal,” said NORML Political Director Morgan Fox in a statement. “More than two-thirds of Americans support repealing the federal prohibition of marijuana and they deserve to know where our elected officials stand on this issue.”
But even though support for cannabis reform is growing among lawmakers and the American public, President Biden still clings to the antiquated War on Drugs policies he championed when he was a Senator. The president may well sign off on the research bill if it were to pass, but he remains opposed to full legalization.