Historically Anti-Cannabis Senators Urge Removal of Barriers for MMJ Research

U.S. Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have long been some of the staunchest anti-marijuana lawmakers in Congress. They’ve supported the War on Drugs, opposed marijuana reform at each opportunity, and came out strongly against the Obama administration’s decisions to allow states to legalize medical and recreational marijuana.

Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority reports that recently, the two senators have displayed what may be a change of heart, at least with regards to medical marijuana. The two anti-cannabis warriors have joined forces to pressure the federal government to lessen the burden on scientists who want to conduct research on the drug’s medical benefits.

Grassley and Feinstein sent letters to the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week that urge the departments to “determine ways to remove any unnecessary barriers that stand in the way of research into the potential medical benefits of marijuana.” The senators contacted the departments last October as well, informing them that while they “do not support the use of smoked marijuana as medicine,” they “are concerned that existing regulations may have the unintended consequence of inhibiting additional research on potential medical uses for marijuana; specifically, cannabidiol,” or CBD.

Grassley and Feinstein’s main concern is with current federal regulations that oblige scientists to undergo extra reviews each time they make even small changes to their research methods. Marijuana research proposals are also subject to a review by the Public Health Service–in addition to the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other reviews–a step unique to marijuana among drug research.

The Justice Department and the HHS gave inconsistent replies. Assistant attorney general Peter J. Kadzik argued that current review protocols are necessary and not overbearing. He specifically noted that additional DEA requests for review, required when a researcher plans to “deviate from the previously approved research protocol (other than the quantity of controlled substance),” are important because “material deviations in the research protocol could potentially alter the scientific merit of the research and have impacts on the health and safety of the human research subjects.”

In contrast, HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell stated that the agency is “committed to supporting the efficient and timely development of safe and effective new medicines and is actively considering options within our regulatory paradigm to enable more scientific study on marijuana.” She also noted that HHS is working with the FDA “to alleviate any unnecessary burdens that inhibit research and development in this area.”

In response, Senators Feinstein and Grassley drew attention to the agencies’ confliction responses in two new letters to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and HHS Secretary Burwell. The senators request that the two agencies look into whether CBD should be reclassified under the Controlled Substances Act:

“This request is based on the fact that a scientific and medical evaluation of CBD has never been conducted by the federal government, despite the growing anecdotal evidence that it may effectively treat intractable epilepsy in children. Many individuals across the country are suffering from serious medical conditions that might be alleviated by CBD. It is therefore critical that this evaluation be completed so that it can be determined if CBD should be down-scheduled and used as a medicine, or remain as currently scheduled.”

The senators requested a written response by July 5.



Photo Credit: Mark

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