In the last days of its existence, the House of the 116th Congress passed a second marijuana reform bill in quick succession after approving the MORE Act that plans to decriminalize marijuana federally. The Medical Marijuana Research Act, which passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate, would promote research and allow scientists to study state-legal marijuana.
The bill was approved by a voice vote under a suspension of the rules, with approval from more than two-thirds of the chamber. The effort was bipartisan and led by the unlikely duo of Democratic cannabis champion Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Republican prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris. Unexpectedly, the bill had more Republican than Democratic co-sponsors. Although the Republican Party has been consistently opposing any and all marijuana reform, which makes it seem likely that the Medical Marijuana Research Act will not even be put up to a vote in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Republican-controlled Senate, the bipartisan nature of the project can be a reason to hope.
In its original form, the bill merely expanded the number of federally approved suppliers of marijuana for research purposes, but it was amended to allow researchers to study state-legal marijuana to better understand the products available to customers in dispensaries across the country. It was that newer version that passed with a large majority through the House, finally providing an answer to a problem pointed out by the Shepherd Express and numerous experts for the past few decades.
Why This Matters
Despite being severely repressed for a century and considered to be as dangerous as heroin by the federal government, cannabis is relatively poorly understood. If research into the plant was advancing well in the first half of the 20th century, it was ground to a halt by the Controlled Substances Act of 1971, which asserted that marijuana is a drug with a high potential for abuse and no medical use—two claims that have been thoroughly proven wrong since.
A few facts have reached a near-consensus in the scientific community: Marijuana is not physically addictive, it is impossible to overdose on it, it is impossible to die of marijuana consumption, and it has been demonstrated again and again to have medical uses—which is why medical pot is often legal in states where recreational is not. Despite this, the doctrine asserting that cannabis truly belongs among the likes of heroin and peyote is still prevalent in the public sphere in the United States, mostly because of an anti-science political establishment and the overall lack of solid data on cannabis caused by the blanket ban on scientific research on the topic.
Due to the ban on the consumption or possession of marijuana, most studies led in the past relied only on self-reporting from patients who claimed to have used marijuana before; researchers are often not legally able to observe subjects under the influence, nor were they allowed to lead comprehensive studies in a controlled environment. Personal resistance to marijuana, varying doses, as well as the countless different strains of cannabis with an immense spectrum of different components in different amounts make it nearly impossible to have any sort of accuracy when relying on people’s self-reported memories of past marijuana use. But, even when researchers have access to actual cannabis, it is far from meeting rigorous scientific standards.
As it currently stands, there is only one entity allowed to supply marijuana to researchers: the University of Mississippi. However, this federally supplied marijuana is completely different from the marijuana found on the market and consumed by the population: The cannabinoid levels are kept artificially low, and any pot-aficionado smoking research-grade marijuana would find it closer to hemp than actual weed.
“Currently, those conducting federally sanctioned research can only study marijuana that is sourced through the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s single DEA-licensed provider at the University of Mississippi. Unfortunately, that marijuana is chemically distinct from what is commercially available from state-legal dispensaries such as in my home state of Oregon,” said Republican Rep. Greg Walden, leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “What does that mean? Well, it means that we have little to no data on the actual health impacts of products in states that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use.” He continues by pointing out that we have far less information on marijuana than on “legal substances that are easily abused, like alcohol or tobacco. We don’t even know at what point it is unsafe for marijuana users to drive.” While states have been passing dosage guidelines for state-legal marijuana products, these rules are based on little more than guesswork. “We just don’t know,” Rep. Greg Walden added.
If it were to pass the Senate, the Medical Marijuana Research Act would finally allow science to study and understand marijuana with modern tools instead of relying on stagnant data from the 1900s. That is something that even prohibition advocates cannot logically deny: If marijuana really is dangerous, allowing researchers to study the substance would prove the truth of their dogma. However—and it is the reason why the GOP-controlled Senate might refuse to consider the bill entirely—wave after wave of research, including whatever little could be conducted in America and from the rest of the world, seems to unanimously point towards the fact that marijuana is both useful and harmless.