A congressman sponsoring a bipartisan marijuana research bill displayed a package of THC-infused gummies from a California dispensary on Wednesday, underscoring the unique challenges that scientists interested in studying cannabis face under federal prohibition.
While Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) was easily able to obtain the marijuana product from a state-legal retailer, researchers must jump through multiple bureaucratic hoops to receive federal authorization to access cannabis for studies—and those products must come from federally contracted sources, rather than commercial retailers.
Holding the tin can of gummies at a press conference outside of the University of California at San Diego, the congressman said people “can find all sorts of [cannabis] products in the stores.” Yet researchers “can’t simply walk in, purchase an item, test its contents to inform our public health guidelines.”
The bill that Peters and Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) introduced in July—the Developing and Nationalizing Key (DANK) Cannabis Research Act—would help resolve that issue.
It would set a federal marijuana research agenda and create a designation for universities to carry out cannabis studies with federal grant money. Those designated universities would be protected against federal sanctions for obtaining marijuana from state-legal dispensaries for study purposes.
“Every consumer, every doctor, wants to know what the effect of these products actually is,” Peters said.
As marijuana laws vary from state to state, we lack a federal effort to research the effects of cannabis consumption. Institutions like @UCSanDiego's distinguished Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research face uncertainty while cannabis remains criminalized at the federal level.
— Rep. Scott Peters (@RepScottPeters) August 31, 2022
Also speaking alongside Peters at the press conference were University of California at San Diego researchers Igor Grant and Mark Wallace, along with labor organizer Todd Walters from the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
The DANK Cannabis Research Act would require the National Institutes on Health (NIH) to collaborate with other agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to develop “a national cannabis research agenda that addresses key questions and gaps in evidence.”
That agenda must include six primary research objectives. For example, the agencies must prioritize studies into the safety and efficacy of cannabis in the treatment of multiple conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-related pain and nausea, as well as the use of marijuana as an opioid alternative.
Thank you to Dr. Igor Grant and Dr. Mark Wallace from @UCSanDiego, Todd Walters from @UFCW135, and Colin Wells for joining me today to announce the introduction of this legislation to inform and protect consumers & medical professionals. pic.twitter.com/UMB5uLUkjB
— Rep. Scott Peters (@RepScottPeters) August 31, 2022
The bill is substantively similar to a measure filed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) in 2019, as well as a companion measure introduced by some House lawmakers that year, but a key difference is that the earlier legislation also included a provision to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Its exclusion is perhaps an acknowledgement that many cannabis legalization supporters now believe that would be an inadequate reform compared to completely removing the plant from the CSA.
The filing of the DANK Cannabis Research Act legislation back in July came in the same week that the U.S. House of Representatives separately voted to approve another bipartisan marijuana research bill that’s also intended to expedite and simplify the process of receiving authorization to study the risks and benefits of marijuana. That measure, which would not allow researchers to study dispensary cannabis, is expected to be taken up by the Senate in short order before potentially being sent to the president’s desk.
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Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said that the omission of provisions to give scientists access to marijuana from state commercial markets was a necessary “compromise” to get it across the finish line.
For what it’s worth, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow, has said that she supports letting researchers access marijuana that’s available in state markets across the country so that their studies can more effectively reflect the type of cannabis that consumers are using.
Meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has taken steps in recent years to approve new cultivators of marijuana to be used in studies, and NIDA recently announced that it will be accepting applications from those authorized growers for one new contractor to supply the agency with cannabis for research purposes.
Additionally, large-scale infrastructure legislation that was signed by President Joe Biden in November contains provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal businesses instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.
Photo courtesy of Pexels/Kindel Media.