Key House Committee Advances Cannabis Research Bill

A key US House of Representatives committee has advanced a bill to expand the federal cannabis research supply and to allow for researchers to use cannabis from state-legal entities. 

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce voted unanimously by voice in favor of HR 3797, the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019. The bill would, in short, “amend the Controlled Substances Act to make marijuana accessible for use by qualified marijuana researchers for medical purposes, and for other purposes.” 

More specifically, there will be no limit on the number of entities that could be federally approved to cultivate and distribute cannabis for research; and the Secretary of Health and Human Services would be required, within 5 years of the enactment of the Act, to submit a report to Congress that includes a review of cannabis research and a note on whether cannabis should be rescheduled.

An amendment proposed on Tuesday by Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia would allow researchers to use “marijuana products available through State authorized marijuana programs” until the aforementioned federally-approved suppliers can meet demand.

Some context: In March, as Cannabis Wire reported, the US Drug Enforcement Administration released long-awaited rules for entities hoping to become federally-licensed cannabis researchers. The DEA first announced that it would accept applications from such entities in 2016. For decades, and to this day, the only federally-approved research supply of cannabis is grown at the University of Mississippi. 

Interest in these licenses is high: As Cannabis Wire reported, these applicants are some major names, both inside and outside the cannabis industry, from cannabis giant Canopy Growth to Battelle, which is perhaps better known for its government-contracts on national security.

On Wednesday afternoon, when the bill came up for discussion and a vote, Griffith spoke about its origin.

“It actually came about because [Rep. Andy Harris] and I were debating the issue one day on the floor, and he said ‘There’s just not enough research to show that medicinal marijuana has any effect.’ I said, ‘That’s because there’s no research.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s a good point,’” Griffith said. 

“I’ve long supported it and I’m thrilled to see it’s finally coming before the full committee for a markup. I believe there are signs that medical marijuana can be beneficial when used in the proper setting for treatment of certain medical conditions,” Griffith added. 

Griffith also spoke about anecdotal reports about medical cannabis, people “cooking up a tincture of marijuana, both the oil and the THC, in order to solve problems with epilepsy,” and the how the bill would open up the amount of cannabis research conducted in the United States, filling a need for more scientific literature. 

Griffith added that he’s “proud” to support the bill, and optimistic that it will be passed. 

“If it doesn’t, then we’ll come back with another bill to do research in the future, because I believe that research can answer a lot of the questions we have about using marijuana as a legitimate medicinal tool in our doctors’ cabinets, and in our cabinets,” he said. 

Dingell highlighted the rising dissonance between rapidly evolving state cannabis laws, and the federal cannabis research infrastructure that is “decades old,” and presents researchers with a “very heavy handed registration process” and “burdensome regulatory roadblocks that greatly limit our understanding of the health effects of marijuana.” 

“It’s time. We don’t have the data that we need and we need to get the data,” Dingell said. “Quite frankly, let a researcher have access to what they need.” 

Dingell said that she “begged” her late husband, former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who died in February with cancer, to try medical cannabis the last year he was alive. He wouldn’t, she said, “because we didn’t have the data.” Dingell spoke about this experience at last year’s Hash Bash, held at the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus. 

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