Longtime Cannabis-Opposing Senator Introduces Bill to Support Medical Marijuana Research

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah has introduced a bill that would remove administrative barriers inhibiting research into medical marijuana.

A Republican U.S. senator has introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at encouraging cannabis research efforts. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah has historically been opposed to the legalization of marijuana, but earlier this month introduced the Marijuana Effective Drug Study (MEDS) Act of 2017 to facilitate research into the “possible benefits of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids.”

The MEDS Act would make it easier for scientists to obtain cannabis material for their studies by streamlining the process for approving research and making more marijuana available. The changes would direct U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “increase the national marijuana quota in a timely manner to meet the changing medical, scientific, and industrial needs for marijuana” and require the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to develop recommendations for producing quality cannabis for research.

Because cannabis is currently classified under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, researchers interested in investigating the effects of cannabinoids are met with regulations and bureaucratic red tape that inhibit the collection of data. The new bill would allow for more research without imposing a scheduling change.

“Under current law, those who want to complete research on the benefits of medical marijuana must engage in a complex application process and interact with several federal agencies,” Hatch said in his Senate floor remarks last week. “These regulatory acrobatics can take researchers over a year, if not more, to complete. And the longer researchers have to wait, the longer patients have to suffer.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who co-wrote this bill with Hatch, had previously introduced the legislation in 2016. Since 1996, 29 states have passed laws permitting marijuana for medical purposes.

“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana,” Hatch said in a statement. “Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana.”

“To be blunt,” Hatch added, “we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”

Signing on as co-sponsors so far are Sens. Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), and Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina).

“I urge my colleagues to join Senator Schatz and me in our joint effort to help thousands of Americans suffering from a wide-range of diseases and disorders,” Hatch said. “In a Washington at war with itself, I have high hopes that this bipartisan initiative can be a kumbaya moment for both parties.”

In his floor speech, Hatch said he continues to be against the loosening of adult use policies, but believes it would be a mistake to not fully investigate the benefits of cannabis.

“While I certainly do not support the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, the evidence shows that cannabis possesses medicinal properties that can truly change people’s lives for the better,” he said. “And I believe, Mr. President, that we would be remiss if we threw out the baby with the bathwater.”

In Hatch’s state of Utah, a statewide campaign is collecting signatures in an effort to certify a medical marijuana measure for the 2018 ballot. A poll from earlier this year found that more than 3 or 4 Utah voters are in support of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

You can learn about what researchers has so far discovered about cannabis by visiting our Research and Education page.