September 10, 2020

US Congressional Committee Approves the Medical Cannabis Research Act

3min read

September 10th, 2020

Conor O’Brien

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The bill passed with bipartisan support and now moves to a full Congressional vote, before being passed to the Senate and the President for sign off.

On Wednesday, 9 September, the Medical Cannabis Research Act was approved by the Committee on Energy and Commerce, a key step in the bill becoming law. The bill passed with bipartisan support by a voice vote yesterday evening. No opposition was voiced by any member of the committee, which bodes well for the bill’s progress into the Senate and through to getting the sign of approval by the President.

The aims of the Medical Cannabis Research Act are twofold:

  • To lower the regulatory barriers to approval for researching cannabis, including reducing ‘approval wait times, costly security measures, and additional, unnecessary layers of protocol review’.
  • To increase the supply of medical-grade cannabis to legitimate researchers.

An amendment made to the bill on Tuesday means that researchers would be able to use cannabis from state-approved private suppliers instead of exclusively from federally approved sources, of which there is only one currently. If the bill is signed into law, the FDA will also be tasked with ensuring that an adequate supply of medical-grade cannabis is available to researchers. Rep. Debbie Dingle also mentioned that the Act ‘will direct the FDA to issue guidelines on the production of marijuana’ to be used in research.

This bill is a crucial step in the development of the maturing medical cannabis industry, as some regulators and physicians are not yet convinced of the medicinal benefit of cannabis medications.

‘We don’t have enough research to convince people that we need to go forward with this as a medicinal product,’ said Rep. Morgan Griffith, voicing his support for the bill during the debate. Rep. Debbie Dingle added, ‘The federal framework for conducting research and gaining that objective scientific data on the medicinal properties of marijuana is decades old.’

Current research focused on harms of cannabis use

Recently, new data has emerged on the balance of funding for cannabis research and which aspects of cannabis and cannabinoids the funders of studies in the US, Canada and the UK have been powering. Analysis of the research by Cathleen O’Grady showed that of the US$1.56 billion provided to cannabis researchers in these countries between 2010 and 2018, at least half has gone to study the harms of cannabis. That means that approximately US$750 million has gone to studying issues such as cannabis abuse while the same amount has gone to studying all other aspects, e.g. the medical benefits of cannabis and biochemistry of cannabinoids.

Source: Helth.com (Jim Hudson), ScienceMag.com (Cathleen O’Grady), Prohibition Partners

(Figures are approximated for 2018)

*ScienceMag categorised harms as including research on effects of cannabis use, exposure during pregnancy/infancy, determinants of use, tolerance and withdrawal, prevention, and treatment for substance use disorder and withdrawal.

The president of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded over two thirds of all of the analysed studies, expressed her frustration earlier this year that ‘under Federal law, researchers supported by NIDA and other federal agencies (were) unable to access marketed cannabis products through state marijuana dispensaries’. This could all change if and when the Medical Cannabis Research Act is implemented, as the number of approved researchers, as well as suppliers of medical-grade cannabis, will be greatly increased.

Source: Helth.com/Prohibition Partners

Already, the funding for cannabis research has been rapidly increasing in recent years. In the US, UK and Canada, funding for cannabis research has increased from <US$31 million in 2000 to over US$151 million in 2018. The bill will likely help to increase the research base further, which provides a foundation for future patient access to cannabis medication.

A more thorough reappraisal of the US federal cannabis regulations is also due later this month as the House votes on the MORE Act, which would, among other things, federally deschedule and tax cannabis and make financial and social provisions for those most impacted by the war on drugs, including those convicted under pre-existing drug policies.

For more information on the US cannabis market, download The North American Cannabis Report, for free now.

For bespoke information and support, contact the Prohibition Partners consultancy team at info@prohibitionpartners.com.

US Congressional Committee Approves the Medical Cannabis Research Act

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