Editor’s note: This article was originally published Nov. 17.
President Joe Biden signed legislation Dec. 2 that will facilitate research on cannabis and its potential health benefits, making the Medical Marijuana Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act official. The president’s ink marks the first piece of standalone federal cannabis reform to be enacted since the drug war began more than 50 years ago.
With his signing, the White House issued a statement thanking the representatives and senators who sponsored the reform and acknowledging that the legislation “establishes a new registration process for conducting research on marijuana and for manufacturing marijuana products for research purposes and drug development.”
A standalone cannabis bill is heading to the U.S. president’s desk.
That’s right: The U.S. Congress passed the bipartisan Medical Marijuana Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act with the Senate’s voice vote Nov. 16 after the House passed the bill via a 325-95 vote in July.
The Senate passed H.R. 8454 (Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act) by voice vote.— Senate Periodicals (@SenatePPG) November 16, 2022
Pending President Biden’s signature, the legislation will be the first piece of standalone federal cannabis reform enacted since the Controlled Substances Act of 1971 notoriously designated a plant as a Schedule I drug, according to U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who sponsored the research bill with Andy Harris, R-Md., in the lower chamber.
“After working on the issue of cannabis reform for decades, finally the dam is starting to break,” Blumenauer said in a press release Wednesday. “The passage of my Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act in the House and Senate represents a historic breakthrough in addressing the federal government’s failed and misguided prohibition of cannabis.”
The legislation aims to encourage and facilitate research on cannabis and its potential health benefits by streamlining the application process for studies and removing U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) barriers for researchers that often slow the process.
The bill was also sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Bill Schatz, D-Hawaii.
“There is substantial evidence that marijuana-derived medications can and are providing major health benefits,” Feinstein said in a press release. “Our bill will make it easier to study how these medications can treat various conditions, resulting in more patients being able to easily access safe medications. We know that cannabidiol-derived medications can be effective for conditions like epilepsy. This bill will help refine current medical CBD practices and develop important new applications. After years of negotiation, I’m delighted that we’re finally enacting this bill that will result in critical research that could help millions.”
In easing the process for researchers to apply and receive approval to study cannabis and its derivatives, the legislation, House Bill 8454, aims to require the U.S. attorney general to either approve a cannabis research application or request additional information from the applicant within 60 days of a submission.
More specifically, the bill directs the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to follow specified procedures to register:
- practitioners to conduct cannabis research, and
- manufacturers to supply cannabis for the research.
Additionally, the bill directs the DEA to register manufacturers and distributors of CBD or cannabis for the purpose of commercial production of an approved drug that contains cannabis or its derivative, according to the House’s summary for the legislation.
And the bill allows certain registered entities—including institutions of higher education, practitioners and manufacturers—to manufacture, distribute, dispense or possess cannabis or CBD for the purposes of medical research.
“As a physician who has conducted [National Institutes of Health]-sponsored research, I am pleased that this bill has finally passed and that scientists will be able to research what medical marijuana can and cannot do,” Harris said in a July press release. “While there is evidence to suggest that medical marijuana may be beneficial in the treatment of some diseases like glaucoma and epilepsy, only scientific research will prove the veracity of the many claims regarding efficacy for other diseases.”
He added, “Despite lacking much scientific research, over three dozen states have already legalized medical marijuana, and the American public deserves to know the effect modern marijuana has on the human body. While I support additional research for the use of medical marijuana, my position on recreational marijuana remains the same—I categorically oppose it.”
According to the bill’s summary, the legislation also includes provisions that:
- require the DEA to assess whether there is an adequate and uninterrupted supply of cannabis for research purposes;
- prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from reinstating the interdisciplinary review process for cannabis research;
- allow physicians to discuss the potential harms and benefits of cannabis and its derivatives (including CBD) with patients; and
- require HHS, in coordination with the National Institutes of Health and relevant federal agencies, to report on the therapeutic potential of cannabis for various conditions such as epilepsy, as well as the impact on adolescent brains and on the ability to operate a motor vehicle.
“I’ve heard directly from Iowans who are desperately in search of treatment options for conditions like child epilepsy,” Grassley said. “Unfortunately, many families have resorted to using untested, unregulated derivatives from the marijuana plant as a last resort to treat these conditions. Since 2015, I’ve pushed to expand medical research into marijuana derivatives such as cannabidiol to better understand their benefits and potential harms. This research is a critical step toward ensuring safe and effective therapies are also consistently regulated like any other prescription drug. I’m grateful that this bipartisan bill is now on its way to President Biden.”