On Thursday morning, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018, which will make it easier for researchers to study cannabis. Rep. Matt Gaetz sponsored the bill, along with 40 other representatives from both sides of the aisle.
HR 5634 Overview
As Rep. Gaetz made clear, HR 5634 does three things:
- Ensures the production of a sufficient supply of medical grade cannabis. Currently, the University of Mississippi is the only facility that is legally permitted to grow cannabis for research, and there are concerns about the quality of the crop. In his remarks, Gaetz called the existing research supply the “government cheese” of medical marijuana. The bill also means that it will no longer be left to the discretion of the Department of Justice to suppress the quantity of research-grade cannabis that is available for study.
- The law would create a safe harbor so that the “best and brightest” can study cannabis. This will allow them to find evidence for or against the medical efficacy of cannabis for a range of different conditions. For example, the Pennsylvania State University system wants to collaborate with private businesses and healthcare providers to conduct cannabis research, but they can’t do it under current law.
- The bill would demystify cannabis-related processes for the VA, so that veterans will no longer be at the mercy of local cultures when it comes to learning about federally approved cannabis clinical trials.
While the bill was received favorably overall, critics objected to a provision that would prevent manufacturers from employing people with a record of drug-related convictions. Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen was one of several representatives who spoke passionately against the provision, saying:
Probably a third to more of the people in this room have sometimes smoked marijuana. To say that they couldn’t participate is to continue a canard that has gone on since Harry Anslinger in the 30s, that only foreigners, people from Mexico or African American jazz musicians or other “undesirables” smoke marijuana.
That was the basis of the law that made marijuana illegal in the first place: canards and racial prejudice that was spread by Harry Anslinger and perpetuated by others.
California’s Rep. Ted Lieu also objected to the bill, saying that medical efficacy shouldn’t be an issue:
We don’t make alcohol manufacturers go ahead and show that alcohol is somehow medically beneficial to you before we legalize alcohol. There’s is really no evidence that marijuana and cannabis are any more dangerous than alcohol.
It is completely irrational that we’re spending taxpayers’ money at the federal government level trying to eradicate marijuana or trying to prosecute marijuana offenses.
This whole thing is just sort of stupid. We need to make sure that we legalize cannabis at some point.
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin spoke in favor of the bill, but also noted that is was extremely limited in its scope and intention. He went on to criticize cannabis prohibition in general:
Marijuana prohibition, like its historical precursor alcohol prohibition, has proven to be a miserable failure at every level…the states are way ahead and Congress needs to catch up.