Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.
At a congressional hearing Wednesday, federal regulators recognized that valuable research into marijuana is being inhibited by cannabis’s current legal status and described previously unreported steps they’re taking to resolve the issue.
The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held the meeting to discuss six cannabis reform proposals, including two that would federally legalize marijuana. Most of the hearing involved lawmakers pressing witnesses from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) on the obstacles to marijuana studies that those officials claim are needed before pursuing broader policy reform.
Conversation was more limited when it came to legalization bills such as Judiciary Chairman Jerrod Nadler’s Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which was approved by his panel last year. That said, formerly anti-reform Representative Joe Kennedy III did lead a powerful discussion about the failures of prohibition and the need to deschedule cannabis.
Kennedy announced that panel leadership has agreed to hold a second hearing featuring the voices of people negatively impacted by marijuana prohibition, which he said “has failed.”
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone said in his opening statement that “while state laws and public perception around cannabis and its derivatives have evolved over the years, much of the federal framework that regulates cannabis has stayed the same.”
Today the @EnergyCommerce Health Subcommittee is holding a legislative hearing on cannabis policies for the new decade including proposals to decriminalize marijuana and increase important research on cannabis, hemp and CBD. pic.twitter.com/uL8lkmmXdj— Rep. Frank Pallone (@FrankPallone) January 15, 2020
After being repeatedly asked about the limited supply of research-grade cannabis and the lack of chemical diversity in those plants cultivated at the nation’s only federally authorized manufacturer, DEA Senior Policy Advisor Matthew Strait said the agency is aware of the issue and is actively developing regulations to address the problem by licensing additional growers.
“We actually have a draft regulation in place,” he said, adding that it’s currently being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget and that regulators have a call scheduled for Thursday to discuss the proposed rule.
“We know that we have to probably do notice and comment rulemaking to implement regulations on two matters: one is how we’re going to evaluate all of our pending applications and two what additional types of regulations might need to be in place in order to impose on those that would grow,” he said. “That regulation is in draft form. I can’t talk too much about it, but rest assured, we have submitted to OMB, it’s been drafted and tomorrow some of us will be getting on a call to talk through it.”
The DEA, FDA, and NIDA witnesses all agreed under questioning that the current supply of cannabis for study purposes is inadequate and that researchers should be able to access a wider range of marijuana products.
Kennedy, who recently became a cosponsor of the MORE Act, followed up on his opening remarks with a brief statement on his personal evolution on the issue and frustration over policies inhibiting research.
“Meanwhile, millions of Americans — mostly black and brown — have been locked up for non-violent drug offenses. Meanwhile, desperate parents are forced to turn to a black market with no concern for patient safety to get their children the relief that they need. Meanwhile our cities and states are trying, and at times stumbling, to put in place thoughtful and thorough regulatory frameworks with zero support from federal partners. And meanwhile, a brand new corporate industry is rising up, rife with predictable economic injustices that spring up whenever government fails to regulate. Prohibition has clearly failed and America isn’t waiting for its government anymore.”
He then asked NIDA Director Nora Volkow and FDA Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs Douglas Throckmorton whether removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act would make it easier for researchers to obtain and study it. Both said that the policy change would in fact simplify research, though Volkow said it “may have unintended negative consequences.”
FDA and NIDA said their agencies would not be impacted if marijuana was descheduled, and DEA’s Strait acknowledged that his agency would because of its responsibility to enforce the CSA.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna Eshoo said researchers are “are in a catch-22” under the current regulatory scheme because they “can’t conduct research until they show cannabis has a medical use, but they can’t demonstrate cannabis has a medical use until they can conduct research.”
“It doesn’t make sense — at least to me,” she said.
Representative Tony Cardenas said that the “United States Congress made a mistake, and every Congress since has not had honest hearings and honest dialogue and has not allowed — truly allowed — the researchers in this great country to do the true research that needs to be done for us to properly categorize cannabis in this country.”
“As a result of that, we have millions of individuals in this country who have been subjected to incarceration and a criminal record that otherwise they would have a much more productive and better life and that as a society, we would be much better off, including the taxpayers, if we were to actually get this right,” he said.