The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a marijuana bill—but not the federal legalization measure that advocates have been eagerly awaiting Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to bring to the floor. Rather, it’s a modest bipartisan piece of legislation that’s simply meant to promote research into marijuana.
The bill—sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA)—is titled the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act. It cleared the full chamber unanimously, without debate.
It would streamline the application process for researchers who want to study the plant and to encourage the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop cannabis-derived medicines.
It would also clarify that physicians are allowed to discuss the risks and benefits of marijuana with patients and require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to submit a report on those potential health benefits, as well one on barriers to cannabis research and how to overcome those obstacles.
“Current rules and regulations make it hard for researchers to study how marijuana and marijuana-derived medications can best be used to treat various conditions,” Feinstein said in a press release. “This important legislation will cut the red-tape around the research process, helping get FDA-approved, marijuana-derived medications safely to patients.”
JUST IN: The Senate passed my bill with Senators Grassley and Schatz to cut red tape around the research process of marijuana and marijuana-derived medications. This will help get FDA-approved, marijuana-derived medications safety to patients.https://t.co/Oen5M8IkjH
— Senator Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) March 24, 2022
Grassley said that the legislation “is critical to better understanding the marijuana plant and its potential benefits and side effects.”
“It will empower the FDA to analyze CBD and medical marijuana products in a safe and responsible way so that the American public can decide whether to utilize them in the future based on sound scientific data,” he said. “Researching marijuana is widely supported by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and it’s a smart step forward in addressing this current schedule I drug.”
Schatz said that the “medical community agrees that we need more research to learn about marijuana’s potential health benefits, but our federal laws today are standing in the way of us finding those answers.
Our legislation moves us one step closer to removing these barriers, allowing researchers to study marijuana’s safety and effectiveness, and hopefully, giving patients more treatment options. 👩🔬🍃
— Senator Brian Schatz (@SenBrianSchatz) March 24, 2022
“We are now one step closer to removing excessive barriers that make it difficult for researchers to study the effectiveness and safety of marijuana, and hopefully, give patients more treatment options,” he said.
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In general, the first section of the bill concerns the application process for institutions seeking federal authorization to research marijuana. The U.S. attorney general would be given a 60-day deadline to either approve a given application or request supplemental information from the applicant. It would also create an expedited pathway for researchers who request larger quantities of Schedule I drugs.
The second major section of the bill is about FDA approval of marijuana-derived drugs. One way to encourage such developments is through allowing “accredited medical and osteopathic schools, practitioners, research institutions, and manufacturers with a Schedule I registration” to cultivate their own cannabis for research purposes, a summary says.
The Drug Enforcement Administration would get a mandate to approve applications to be manufacturers of marijuana-derived, FDA-approved drugs under the bill. Manufacturers would also be allowed to import cannabis materials to facilitate research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.
Finally, a fourth section would require HHS to look at the health benefits and risks of marijuana as well as policies that are inhibiting research into cannabis that’s grown in legal states and provide recommendations on overcoming those barriers.
The bill further states that it “shall not be a violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) for a State-licensed physician to discuss” the risk and benefits of marijuana and cannabis-derived products with patients.
Prior to final passage on Thursday, the Senate adopted an amendment to remove a provision of the bill that would have altered federal law to clarify that the definition of marijuana does not include “the synthetic equivalent of hemp-derived cannabidiol that contains less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol.”
A separate piece of cannabis research legislation cleared the House in 2020. A major difference in the respective bills is that the House-passed measure contained provisions that would allow scientists to obtain cannabis from state-legal dispensaries for research purposes. That was designed to help them avoid depending on marijuana that’s produced at the only federally authorized manufacturing facility at the University of Mississippi.
News: This Senate just unanimously passed a bill to expand scientific and medical research on cannabis and encourage federal research into CBD.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) March 24, 2022
The bill’s other original cosponsors include Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
The proposal has been endorsed by mainstream medical organizations like American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Psychological Association and American Society of Addiction Medicine, as well as pro-legalization groups such as Americans for Safe Access, Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies and NORML.
Separately, Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced legislation in December 2021 that would also seek to make it easier for scientists to research Schedule I drugs like marijuana and psilocybin.
The Senate passage of this marijuana research bill comes on the same day that House leadership put a separate measure to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity in the industry on a list of bills up for a floor vote next week. That legislation—the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)—passed the House in 2020. The new version also advanced through Nadler’s panel in September 2021.
Meanwhile, advocates and stakeholders are eagerly awaiting the formal introduction of a separate Senate legalization bill that’s being finalized by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) etc. Schumer recently said the plan is to file that bill—the Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (CAOA)—in April.
Also in Congress, a separate bill to tax and regulate marijuana is also in play this session. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) is sponsoring that legislation, and she said in a recent interview that she’s received assurances from Democratic leaders that her States Reform Act will receive a hearing.
Read the text of the amendment to the cannabis research bill that the Senate adopted: