Federal Officials Pressed About Cannabis Research Gridlock During Congressional Hearing

House officials questioned federal officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse to find out where cannabis policy could be heading and what is holding up marijuana research.

Federal officials testified this week during a House subcommittee hearing on the future of cannabis at the federal government level. It was the first time that members of the United States Energy and Commerce Committee heard and debated issues related to federal marijuana law.

Lawmakers pressed officials from three federal agencies that control access and regulation of marijuana to better understand where cannabis policy currently stands and where it could potentially be headed as states continue to legalize a federally prohibited substance.

“States’ laws and federal policy are a thousand miles apart. As more states allow cannabis, the federal government still strictly controls and prohibits it, even restricting legitimate medical research,” stated House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA).

Eshoo opened the hearing on Wednesday saying its purpose was to consider six cannabis reform bills. No policy changes were made during the 3.5-hour meeting on Wednesday. The “Cannabis Policies for the New Decade” hearing did, however, offer space for lawmakers to communicate frustration towards current federal policy and limitations on cannabis research.

“Researchers are in a catch-22. They can’t conduct cannabis research until they show cannabis has a medical use, but they can’t show cannabis has a medical use until they can conduct research,” Eshoo stated.

Officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National and the Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) testified about the current gridlock on marijuana research.

Officials from all agencies recognized that marijuana from the University of Mississippi, the only approved cannabis for federal research, was not adequately meeting research needs. Each official also agreed there is a need for a wider array of cannabis products for research.

“It’s time to get the data and let the decision be driven by the data,” U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) said during the hearing.

Last year, the DEA announced it would be allowing more growers to research marijuana, but first needs to develop regulations for applications. Those regulations have yet to be formally defined and approved by the current White House administration.

Former Anti-Marijuana Congressman Now Pro-Cannabis

Formerly anti-marijuana Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) addressed officials during the hearing, stating that the cannabis talk was “long overdue” and that “federal prohibition has failed.” The congressman also noted that more voices needed to be heard on the matter.

The only witnesses who spoke at the hearing, announced last week, were officials from the three federal and national agencies controlling cannabis access and regulation. Kennedy announced that a follow-up meeting was secured to include the voices of individuals most negatively impacted by prohibition.

“There are also critical stakeholders who are missing: those whose lives have been directly touched by our broken marijuana policies, people unjustly incarcerated, patients who rely on medical cannabis, researchers with expertise who are yearning to learn more, small business owners trying to find fair footing in a new industry,” Kennedy stated.

The Congressman is one of 67 cosponsors of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last year. That vote happened only a year after Kennedy made a political pivot on his stance of marijuana decriminalization and legalization.

Prior to the hearing, NORML Political Director Justin Strekal encouraged members of the subcommittee to push for congressional action.

“It is time for the members of the Energy and Commerce Committee to take action to advance The MORE Act, which removes the cannabis plant from the federal Controlled Substances Act and makes other substantive changes,” Strekal said in a post on NORML.

Watch the hearing, “Cannabis Policies For The New Decade” here.

Marijuana in the News

Eleven states have now legalized recreational cannabis and 33 states have legalized medical marijuana. Learn more about which states have granted legal access to cannabis at out Where Is Marijuana Legal? education page.

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