Yesterday, a House Judiciary Committee that handles federal drug enforcement approved a bill that would expand research into the medical benefits of marijuana. The Medical Cannabis Research Act was sponsored by Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. If the bill is voted into law, it will force Attorney General Jeff Sessions to issue a license to two cultivation facilities within the first year.
While a date for the full house vote has not yet been scheduled, the fact that the House Judiciary Committee approved it is a huge victory for cannabis reform. NCIA’s Executive Director, Aaron Smith notes that, “The experiences of the states with medical cannabis laws and the millions of patients helped by those programs have proven that cannabis is an effective medicine, but federal research has always lagged behind. This markup represents a big step toward increasing our base of knowledge about cannabis, but more importantly, it shows that Congress is willing to look at the issue fairly and scientifically.”
There was some pushback initially on the Medical Cannabis Research Act due to a clause that prevented persons with a “conviction for a felony or drug-related misdemeanor” from being involved in any of the cannabis cultivation and research efforts. This clause was vigorously debated and in the end House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte agreed to oversee the revisions before the bill heads to the house floor for a vote and would "probably not object" to the removal of the drug possession convictions.
Chairman Goodlatte released a statement noting, “While there are many varying opinions on the issue of marijuana, one thing we all can agree on is that we need qualified researchers to study the science to determine if there are any potential medicinal benefits to chemicals derived from cannabis."
California House Representative Ted Lieu was in strong opposition of the Medical Cannabis Research Act as it was written but signaled that he would vote in favor as long as amendments were added to exclude drug possession convictions from being banned to work at research facilities before it reaches the floor. While the in’s and out’s of the bill are being still being ironed out, the initiative has seen growing support.
NORML has been fighting for this type of medical marijuana reform for decades and Deputy Director Paul Armentano welcomed the progress but still thinks more can be done. “While this vote marks a step forward, it must also be acknowledged that despite existing barriers to research, ample studies already exist to contradict cannabis' federal, schedule I status as a substance without medical utility, lacking acceptable safety, and possessing a high potential of abuse. More clinical research is welcome, but unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy. If it did, the United States would already have a very different policy in place," remarked Armentano.
The fact the House Judiciary Committee approved the Medical Cannabis Research Act is historic in itself. This is only the second time a medical marijuana related measure has made it to the floor for a vote. The first was approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee to evaluate the benefits of cannabis for military veterans.