As first reported in Forbes, the U.S. House panel that oversees federal drug enforcement met last week to approve or deny a bill to dramatically expand opportunities for research on the medical benefits of marijuana. The measure was approved with the intent to amend the bill at a later date if the House
Florida Republican congressman Matt Gaetz, along with 40 bipartisan cosponsors, proposed a new bill, the Medical Cannabis Research Act (MCRA), that requires that the federal government issue more licenses to grow marijuana to be used in scientific studies.
For over fifty years, the sole legal source of cannabis for scientific research has been grown on a single farm at the University of Mississippi. But scientists and researchers have long complained about the near impossibility of obtaining cannabis samples and noting how poor the quality of the samples are, sometimes even being moldy.
In a phone interview about the expansion, Gaetz was optimistic about the effects of the bill, saying it will "increase the amount of research-grade cannabis available to unlock cures." And in a nod to shifting politics, the congressmen went on to note that, "this will be the first time that a cannabis reform bill will make it through the Judiciary Committee during a Republican control of the Congress, ever."
While generally heralded as a step in the right direction, most drug policy advocacy groups have not given the bill full-throated support because of key provisions in the bill’s requirements for cannabis grower licenses. In principle, they don’t like that the proposal bars people with a “conviction for a felony or drug-related misdemeanor” from being affiliated with research cultivation operations.
Other policy reform advocates brought up separate concerns about how the bill will be applied, given the Attorney General's known disdain for marijuana.
NORML Political Director Justin Strekal expressed this optimistic concern in a statement, "the bill is imperfect as it would rely on known prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions to oversee an overly restrictive permitting process, its passage would be a step in the right direction to lay the foundation for future research into marijuana's most beneficial properties."
The MCRA bill will take the decision away from the Department of Justice by issuing a directive to grant more licenses directly from Congress.
Apart from the cultivation licenses, the bill also introduces clarifying language allowing Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to discuss the medical use of marijuana with veteran patients and can refer them to participate in scientific studies on cannabis. But it will not overturn the internal VA ban prohibiting physicians from issuing medical marijuana recommendations in accordance with state laws.
And it what could be seen as an anticipation of licensing additional cultivators, last month the DEA moved to greatly increased the amount of marijuana that can be legally grown.