The Washington Post has reported a turn of events that has left many aghast as medical cannabis opponent Rep Andy Harris teams up with medical marijuana supporter Rep. Earl Blumenauer to propose an overhaul of cannabis policy that will make research into the purported benefits of cannabis easier.
Red tape makes medial cannabis research difficult
As if research itself weren’t a difficult enough process, simply getting approval to conduct a study can take as much as seven years. According to current federal laws, only one facility in Mississippi may produce cannabis for research purposes. That makes it tricky to get the necessary plant material, but difficulties don’t stop there. Before research can get the go-ahead, it has to be given the green light by the DEA, the FDA and sometimes the NIH.
Overcoming these hurdles is so difficult and time consuming that researchers who would otherwise be interested in medical cannabis research stay well away – unless they have both sufficient passion and enough patience to jump through all the hoops and overcome all the hurdles.
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Cannabis opponent sponsors bill to ease research obstacles
Perhaps it would be a step too far to call Harris a ‘former’ cannabis opponent, but it could be that his opposition to date has been based on a lack of research evidence – a problem that many doctors raise, even in states where medical cannabis is legal. Now Harris and colleagues want to remove some of the obstacles to research altogether while making others led formidable and time-consuming to overcome.
They also want to change the grounds on which research proposals can be declined. Currently, research projects can be turned down on the assumption that they are not in the public interest. What Harris, Blumenauer and the rest want is a rule that says approval must be granted unless there’s proof that research isn’t in the public interest. It’s a small but very significant distinction.
Carving out a niche in the Schedule 1 status
Schedule one drugs such as heroin and cannabis are very difficult to obtain research approval for. Many have said that cannabis should be rescheduled, and the DEA is currently considering this with no fixed timeline on a decision. The proposal to be put before congress won’t reschedule the drug, but will carve a niche for medical cannabis research within its schedule one status.
Harris doesn’t want to wait for the DEA deliberations to reach fruition. He wants change that will make research easier now, saying that cannabis differs from other Schedule one substances since it is a combination of hundreds of compounds rather than being composed of a single one.
Rescheduling without ‘rescheduling’
A representative of the Brookings Institution who is an expert on policy says that what Harris and Blumenauer are trying to achieve amounts to a rescheduling in practical terms, without the official rescheduling decision from the DEA.
Harris says that as a doctor, his support for the proposal is based on a desire to help researchers. He says getting research approval is difficult because of “lack of research”, creating a difficult situation in which progress cannot be made. He reaffirms his opposition to medical cannabis in its current form, but adds that as a doctor, he would not want to deny a patient a medicine that has been scientifically proven as effective. If this proposal passes, we can expect to see medical cannabis research gaining momentum in the US.