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New legislation to increase research into cannabis and lessen federal restrictions has been introduced by US Senator Dick Durbin. The Expanding Cannabis Research and Information Act would remove restrictions on federal research into cannabis and expand much needed studies on the potential benefits and harms from cannabis use.
The global shift towards more liberal regulation follows positive data from emerging studies, such as that from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. A 2017 study from the academy found conclusive evidence that cannabis can be effective for a wide variety of health conditions, however it also highlighted the restrictions the industry faces due to the limited research available on the health and public safety impacts of cannabis use.
“With some form of legalization on the books in over 30 states and now Illinois, I want to lift federal restrictions so we can conduct additional medical research on marijuana,” Durbin said. “We need a better understanding of promising uses of cannabis for treatment, as well as how marijuana use impacts public safety and specific populations – including children, pregnant women, and drivers.”
Under US federal law, cannabis and its derivatives are classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule I controlled substances, defined as having no medical benefit. The classification means that researchers must navigate a maze of regulations for each new study or clinical trial, meaning that they cannot easily research products that are in fact readily available to the public.
Direct the NIH, CDC, and SAMHSA to develop a national cannabis research agenda. The agenda would prioritize key questions and gaps in evidence—including a study of diseases with the greatest potential benefit; how marijuana affects vulnerable populations; long-term effects; different modes of delivery; and public safety concerns.
Direct HHS to collect more data on cannabis use and impacts on health outcomes. Using public health surveys and analysis of public medical records, this would expand public health data collection on health outcomes and the variety of products used.
Reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III controlled substance. This will remove barriers that researchers face in accessing supply of cannabis and credentialing staff/facilities to demonstrate safety and capacity to study cannabis.
Establish an NIH research “Centers of Excellence” designation. The designation would streamline research by enabling qualified universities to undergo a single DEA facility/staff inspection that lasts for the entire 5-10 year duration, rather than needing specific approvals for each study and researcher. Additionally, the designation would expand the number of approved suppliers for marijuana cultivation for research.
The Expanding Cannabis Research and Information Act is supported by the Illinois State Medical Society, Epilepsy Foundation, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Parkinson’s Foundation, Michael J. Fox Foundation, American Public Health Association, Chicago Medical Society.