Feds Accused of Hiding Behind ‘Catch-22’ on Cannabis Research

Lawmakers questioned officials from the DEA, FDA, and National Institutes of Health yesterday about the federal limitations on cannabis research; Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) accused the government agencies of hiding behind a cannabis “Catch-22.”

Full story after the jump.

During the first-ever cannabis-focused House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee hearing yesterday lawmakers prodded officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and National Institutes of Health on the federal limitations to researching the plant and its status as a Schedule I substance.

According to a CNN report, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D) accused the government of hiding behind a “Catch-22 for a long, long time” on cannabis research policies – because cannabis is a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no medicinal value and high potential for abuse, researchers have a hard time getting the proper licenses to research it and offer the government proof of its medicinal value.

“Federal prohibition has failed, from our criminal justice system to our health care system to our state and local governments that are forced to navigate an impossible landscape.” – Kennedy III, to the Hill

In August, the DEA announced plans to “facilitate and expand scientific and medical research” into medical cannabis research and Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon said the agency supports “additional research into marijuana and its components [and] believe registering more growers will result in researchers having access to a wider variety for study.”

During the hearing, DEA Senior Policy Advisor Matthew Strait said the agency had drafted new regulations to allow more cannabis research and had submitted them to the White House for review.

Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, the FDA’s deputy director for regulatory programs at the Center for Drug Evaluation of Research, said that the agency is “looking at a full range of options” for its CBD policies and that regulators are currently evaluating the safety and efficacy of the cannabinoid, according to CNN.

In November, the FDA issued a consumer update that claimed CBD “has the potential to harm,” including negative effects on the metabolism of other drugs, increased risk of sedation and drowsiness when used with alcohol, changes in alertness, gastrointestinal distress, changes in mood, and echoed disputed research suggesting that the cannabinoid can damage the liver.

Some lawmakers also pressed the DEA on cannabis’ status as a Schedule I drug – the agency could remove it from, or change its status on, the federal drug schedule without Congressional approval – but some at the hearing opposed completely removing cannabis from the schedule. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) said he would not support broad descheduling, calling it “a step too far,” but that he could support rescheduling to make research easier.

“We need more research and better data,” Walden said during the hearing according to the Hill. “Americans are consuming more cannabis and policy decisions on this substance have been made in a virtual information vacuum.”

The hearing is part of a larger policy conversation happening in Congress right now, as the House passed the SAFE Banking Act – which would normalize financial services for cannabusinesses – in September and two House committees advanced the MORE Act, which would end federal cannabis prohibition.

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