A bill that would make it easier for scientists in the US to study the potential benefits and harms of medical cannabis cleared the Senate on Nov. 16. The House of Representatives had passed the legislation (H.R. 8454) in July, and President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law.
The bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify policies that inhibit cannabis research and to recommend how to overcome those barriers. It also paves the way for research institutions to grow their own cannabis or import cannabis for medical research purposes, but it does not allow scientists to purchase cannabis from state-run dispensaries.
Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has no accepted medical benefits and has a high likelihood of addiction. Because of that classification, researchers need approval from several government agencies to conduct clinical studies using cannabis.
H.R. 8454 aims to streamline and speed up that approval process. It gives the US attorney general a 60-day deadline to approve cannabis research applications or request additional information from the applicant.
“For far too long, Congress has stood in the way of science and progress, creating barriers for researchers attempting to study cannabis and its benefits,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who introduced the legislation, says in a statement. “It is essential that we are able to fully study the impacts of cannabis use,” given that more than 155 million people live in areas where local or state governments have legalized adult use of marijuana, he says.
The bill is the first stand-alone piece of cannabis-related legislation to pass both chambers of Congress, signaling a shift in attitudes about federal policy on the substance. It comes just weeks after Biden requested that the HHS review clinical research on cannabis and advise the Department of Justice on reclassifying or removing it from the Controlled Substances Act.