Despite growing bipartisan support for allowing marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes, the federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. That means many scientists can’t research a drug that has the potential to ease the symptoms of millions of Americans.
But the government blockade preventing scientists from studying the substance may come down soon — and even some of the leading opponents of marijuana are on board.
On Monday morning, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives announced two new billsto ease the restrictions on medical marijuana research so that “policy decisions about the role of medical marijuana are based on science and facts instead of rhetoric.”
Later this week, Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), and Andy Harris (R-MD) will join Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Chris Coons (D-DE) to introduce the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016 in both houses of Congress.
The bill would allow private manufacturers to grow and distribute marijuana for research — a privilege currently granted to the National Institute on Drug Abuse alone. And researchers would no longer have to jump through hoops to get their projects approved, due to eased wait times and security protocols.
The legislation is yet another sign that marijuana is no longer the taboo, political poison that it once was. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — who once had to be “tough on crime” to keep their positions in power — are now more open to treating pot use as a social norm, rather than as a symbol of criminal deviance.
“As a physician who has conducted (National Institutes of Health) sponsored research, I can’t stress enough how critical this legislation is to the scientific community,” Harris, who is typically a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization, said of the legislation. “Our drug policy was never intended to act as an impediment to conducting legitimate medical research. We need empirical scientific evidence to clearly determine whether marijuana has medicinal benefits and, if so, how it would be used most effectively. This legislation is crucial to that effort because it removes the unnecessary administrative barriers that deter qualified researchers from rigorously studying medical marijuana.”
The limited research that’s been conducted so far shows that marijuana does have positive health benefits, which is why the overwhelming majority of physicians across the country support using it on medical grounds. Pot prevents seizures and overdosing on painkillers. It’s used for treating muscle spasms, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease.
A report published in the Journal of American Medical Association this month found that the worst, long-term health impact of smoking pot is gum disease.
Nevertheless, medical marijuana is still banned in many states. And as long as it remains a Schedule I drug, insurance companies can’t cover cannabis treatment, forcing patients to procure it from the black market due to cost and geographic restrictions.
The lawmakers behind the Medical Marijuana Research Act want prohibition to be based on science, particularly now that half of the country has legalized medical marijuana.
“Despite the fact that over 200 million Americans now have legal access to some form of medical marijuana, federal policy is blocking science. It’s outrageous,” Blumenauer explained. “We owe it to patients and their families to allow for the research physicians need to understand marijuana’s benefits and risks and determine proper use and dosage. The federal government should get out of the way to allow for this long overdue research.”
Congress is also close to approving medical use for veterans, whom government doctors are currently prohibited from prescribing marijuana. And the Drug Enforcement Administration is currently deciding whether or not to reschedule marijuana altogether.