Lawmakers are pushing for more research into the medicinal qualities of cannabis, which can’t happen until it’s declassified as a Schedule I substance.
Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now
Cannabis is often touted as a miracle drug. Its most zealous proponents claim it’s an all-healing plant with the capacity to treat — and perhaps even cure — a variety of health conditions, from aches and pains right down to the Big Sick. But the truth of the matter is, despite a plethora of anecdotal evidence that suggests weed is pretty versatile in its therapeutic capacity, we have yet to be shown the actualreach of this plant.
This is mostly because there is just not enough research available to back up the many claims about cannabis’s healing properties. But the hands of the scientific community are tied on this matter, since marijuana is still considered an outlaw substance in the eyes of the federal government. Due to numerous legal and financial barriers, it is virtually impossible for academia to roll up its sleeves and dig in to find the truth about cannabis. It’s a frustrating situation that is long overdue for change, according to a recent op-ed by a couple of Earls.
A Call for Change
On Monday, Representatives Earl Carter of Georgia and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon published a “hot take” that called for the cannabis plant to be removed from its Schedule 1 classification under the DEA’s Controlled Substances Act. Failing to do so, they say, will only serve to hinder further the research that is imperative as the plant gains widespread acceptance across most of the United States.
“As the legal status of medical cannabis continues to evolve and its use increases — and after many years of human cultivation — we still don’t have a full understanding of the plant’s medicinal benefits,” the Congressmen wrote for NBC News.
But we do have enough evidence that cannabis appears to have some medicinal function. Just last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a cannabis-derived drug called Epidiolex (made from cannabidiol or CBD) for the first time in history, to be used in the treatment of certain types of epilepsy. It follows that if this compound was shown in extensive clinical trials to reduce seizures, “there is conclusive evidence of at least a limited therapeutical nature of cannabis,” the lawmakers contended. Furthermore, the Earls pointed out, we have an often-cited 2017 study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine which indicates that we could have a better understanding of the cannabis plant if not for that pesky Schedule 1 listing. When it comes to cannabis research, this is indisputably the main problem.
“It’s troubling that the federal government is standing in the way of research to clearly determine the health benefits of cannabis,” the op-ed continued. “Cannabis could be a life-changing miracle for some patients, and we need the research to prove so, or to let patients know that they need to pursue a different treatment.”
“As long as it remains a Schedule I drug, we cannot properly study the effects or potential benefits of medical cannabis as the drug faces significant federal restrictions due to this classification,” they added.
What’s the Schedule on the Descheduling Process?
There are only two ways cannabis can get off the Schedule 1 card and become recognized as a substance with medicinal potential. The DEA would need to take steps to downgrade the classification – for instance, make it a Schedule II – or Congress would need to step up and pass a bill, which would then need to be signed by the president. Right now, neither seems likely to happen soon.
However, there are some dealings taking place that seem to suggest that the cannabis plant could be legalized in the United States within the next year or so. If that were to happen, the scientific community would be permitted to conduct reefer research to their hearts’ content. Legalizing the herb at the federal level would eliminate it from the Controlled Substances Act.
Until that happens, however, some federal lawmakers are calling for the federal government just to look the other way with respect to cannabis research.
Last week, Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado and a bipartisan band of 25 other congressional lawmakers sent a letter to a leading member of a House subcommittee asking for the Feds not to withhold funding from those universities that engage in medical marijuana research.
Although marijuana is entirely legal in several states, a federal ban prevents colleges from getting involved in any way. If these academic institutions loosen their policies on campus pot consumption or dare jump into research mode, they can lose crucial financial support from their Uncle Sam.
But Rep. Neguse and crew believe the federal government should embrace any chance we have at learning more about cannabis. That’s why they are calling for protections to be added to the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations bill that would prevent universities from being stripped of funding for merely conducting honest marijuana research.
“Formal research is especially important as more states legalize medical marijuana,” the letter said. “We need medical professionals who are equipped with the knowledge to discuss competently issues surrounding cannabis and health. Evidence-based research regarding cannabis ought to be encouraged in academic settings, not discouraged.”
Now that the Democrats have finally gained back control of the House of Representatives, 2019 is supposed to be a massive year for marijuana reform. But just how much progress will actually be made on the issue remains to be seen.
We’re really still waiting to see how the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act pans out. This measure could set the tone for all things marijuana on Capitol Hill for the rest of the year.
If it passes, and banks are given permission to work with the cannabis industry, we will likely see lawmakers crashing the gates for reforms related to medical marijuana research — and even full-blown legalization. But failure to get the banking measure on the books could result in more let-downs and failure.
In a sense, expanding medical marijuana research in the United States is really contingent on how enthusiastic lawmakers are to support marijuana banking.