It is no secret that legitimate cannabis research has been stunted by federal law over the last five decades. Even as the government has taken baby steps to make research easier, not much has changed in recent years. But a new bill just passed by the House could turn the tide.
The Medical Marijuana Research Act (MMRA) passed overwhelmingly on a vote of 343-75. Strong bipartisan support was important to getting this bill done. It could prove equally important as House managers sit down with their counterparts in the Senate to reconcile their respective versions of the legislation.
It seems likely that they will get something to the president’s desk before summer recess. After recess, legislators will be focusing most of their attention on the upcoming election.
1. Sourcing Cannabis for Research
So, what does the legislation actually do? It makes it easier for researchers to source cannabis. As things now stand, they can only obtain cannabis from a limited number of federally approved providers. The MMRA changes that by giving researchers the ability to purchase directly from licensed dispensaries and pharmacies.
Practically speaking, researchers in California could go right to a San Francisco dispensary and buy as much cannabis as they needed to conduct their studies. Researchers in Utah would theoretically be able to do the same thing, but it is not clear how state law would be reconciled with federal law for purposes of medical research.
Pure Utah is a medical cannabis dispensary located in Payson, UT. Ownership says that the state’s cannabis program is strictly medical. Cannabis can only be purchased from licensed pharmacies by individuals with valid medical cannabis cards. Would Utah have to carve out an exemption for research? Would researchers still have to obtain cards in order to purchase?
2. How It Helps
As for how the legislation helps, its benefits are pretty straightforward. Right off the top, the bill gives research facilities access to a lot more product. No longer being limited to a small number of providers equals choice. If one dispensary doesn’t have what they need, they can always turn to another.
The bill also gives researchers the opportunity to more closely study the very products being sold to consumers. Having that ability opens the door to a better understanding of cannabis in the real world. Researchers can potentially learn a lot more by studying dispensary products as compared to purchasing more ‘sterile’ product from a federally approved provider.
If that’s not enough, access to dispensary products will almost certainly encourage more research. To date, researchers have been dissuaded from looking into cannabis because acquiring it is too much of a hassle and too expensive. Allowing acquisition from licensed dispensaries eliminates both issues. Researchers previously hesitant about studying cannabis now have two fewer reasons to continue avoiding it.
3. We Need to Know Its Medical Benefits
In the aftermath of the House vote, a number of representatives seen as prohibitionists explained why they voted in favor of the bill. More than one conceded that we need to know the medical benefits cannabis offers. They acknowledged that the U.S. has, through its policies, deferred research to other countries. They want that research conducted here.
The chances of reconciliation getting a bill to the president’s desk are pretty good. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are looking at ways to convince their counterparts to join them in voting for a decriminalization bill slated to come up this summer (2022). The chances of passage are not as high, but there is always a possibility of getting enough votes to overcome a filibuster. We will have to wait and see.