In Short

Congress passes proposal to make it easier to research benefits, effects of marijuana

By: - November 27, 2022 5:30 am

Oregon Department of Agriculture officials checked out the marijuana-growing operations at Sol Sisters Farms in Independence in 2017. (Oregon Department of Agriculture)

Although marijuana is legalized in several dozen states and easily obtainable even in areas where it’s illegal, scientists have faced big bureaucratic barriers to conduct research on the drug.

A new, bipartisan bill just passed by Congress aims to snip away some of that red tape. 

The Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act does not change the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance, which means the Drug Enforcement Administration considers it addictive and without medical value. But the act will reduce some of the hurdles researchers have faced in their research. 

It will streamline the application process researchers go through to obtain marijuana for study and will allow them to research a much wider variety of cannabis, said U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon and the chief sponsor of the act in the U.S. House.

“The only accepted cannabis was from a facility in Mississippi that provided cannabis of a very, very low quality,” Blumenauer told the Capital Chronicle. “And researchers had to jump through all sorts of hoops that are absolutely unnecessary and troublesome. We need to streamline the process for research because there’s a desperate need to be able to understand the qualities and the applications for cannabis.”

Blumenauer would like scientists to develop a more sensitive detection test for employment that shows whether someone is inebriated. The test employers use now only detects whether someone has consumed marijuana within weeks or months. 

“Every day, there are thousands and thousands of people across the country who fail a pre-employment drug test simply because they’d had marijuana sometime in the last month or two,” Blumenauer said. “It’s clear there’s no impairment after a week or a month or two, but the tests do not provide that degree of precision.”

In giving researchers access to a wider variety of marijuana, the act will further research on medical applications for cancer and chronic conditions, he said. It could also lead to better designations of cannabis sold commercially in Oregon, he added.

The act requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to issue a report to Congress within a year on:

  • The potential therapeutic effects of marijuana on medical conditions such as intractable epilepsy.
  • The effects of THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, which causes the high, on the body and developing adolescent brain.
  • The effect of THC on cognition and the ability to drive.
  • The barriers to research in states that have legalized marijuana.

The act requires researchers to demonstrate that they have safeguards in place to ensure the  marijuana they are studying cannot be diverted for another use. They still will have to keep it under lock and key.

Marijuana is legalized for medical use in 37 states and for recreational use in 21. Both uses are legal in Oregon. Blumenauer is a member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and has long fought for looser regulations on the drug. He sponsored the act in the U.S. House with Rep. Andy Harris, R-Maryland. It passed on a bipartisan vote of 325 to 95. The bill was  sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-California; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; and passed with a unanimous voice vote.

 

 

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.

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