Senate Passes Cannabis Research Bill

Cannabis has seen more action in Congress this December than at any other time in 2020. 

Earlier this month, the House passed two major bills, as Cannabis Wire reported: the first, the MORE Act, would deschedule cannabis, and the second, the Medical Marijuana Research Act, would significantly expand cannabis research. 

This week, the Senate decided to take up neither of these bills, and to instead advance the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act. This bill, which counts an equal number of Democrats and Republicans among its twelve sponsors, is more limited than the House’s approach with the Medical Marijuana Research Act. The House bill, in addition to encouraging and streamlining research, would allow researchers to study state-legal cannabis products. 

“Existing regulations make medical marijuana research difficult and have prevented us from understanding exactly how medical marijuana can be used safely and effectively to treat various conditions,” Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a statement on Wednesday. 

The Senate bill also explicitly calls for the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health to compile a report on the effects of THC on “developing adolescent brains” and “cognitive abilities, such as those that are required to operate motor vehicles or other heavy equipment.”

(President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for HHS Secretary is Xavier Becerra, currently California attorney general, a role previously held by VP-elect Kamala Harris. Becerra has supported California’s decision to legalize, and, this May, called for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act in Congress.) 

It is unclear whether the House will take up the Senate version before Congress’ session ends, or whether lawmakers will work toward a compromise bill in 2021. Either way, a research-focused bill has a stronger chance of garnering enough Republican support to pass on Congress than more sweeping legislation like the MORE Act. 

Senator Chuck Grassley, for example, who is a sponsor of the research bill, is a vocal opponent of legalization, but, in a statement on Wednesday, referred to himself as “a strong supporter and lead Republican of this legislation since it was first introduced in 2016.” 

Research on cannabis products will mean, he said, “that the American public can decide whether to utilize them in the future based on sound scientific data,” adding that such research “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.”

More Senate Passes Cannabis Research Bill