President Joe Biden on Friday signed into law a bipartisan bill to expand researchers' access to marijuana in order to study its potential medical benefits, representing the first stand-alone federal cannabis reform measure to become law in more than 50 years.
The legislation — the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act, or H.R. 8454 — was approved by the Senate on a voice vote in November following its passage in the House of Representatives on a 325-95 vote in July.
Members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus celebrated the signing, saying in a joint statement that the legislation's approval "marks a monumental step in remedying our federal cannabis laws."
The statement, signed by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, and Brian Mast, R-Fla., continued: "We celebrate the enactment of this critical and long-overdue legislation, and we know there is much more to do to remedy the ongoing harms of the failed war on drugs. Our caucus will continue working to reimagine the federal government's approach to cannabis and enact further reforms."
The bill has the backing of advocates on both sides of the legalization question. Its passage was cheered by anti-legalization advocacy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM, which said the bill marked a sensible step toward improving cannabis research without changing marijuana's status as a federally controlled substance.
"SAM has always encouraged research on marijuana and has said for years that if marijuana is being presented as medicine, it should be treated as such and researched as such," Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of SAM, said in a statement. "We encourage component treatments that are [Drug Enforcement Administration]-approved, prescribed by a physician, and dispensed by a pharmacy. Bills like this one are key for advancing a solid, science-based research agenda."
The bill has also garnered praise from legalization advocacy group NORML, although the group criticized the omission of language in the bill that would allow researchers to do studies on cannabis currently being sold in state-legal markets.
The bill's passage through Congress came approximately a month after Biden announced sweeping changes to federal cannabis policy, saying he would pardon all federal offenders convicted of simple marijuana possession, and direct health and law enforcement officials to review the drug's federal Schedule I status.
The announcement marked the biggest shift in federal cannabis policy since states began legalizing marijuana for medicinal or adult recreational use about 25 years ago.
It also represents a step toward the fulfillment of pledges Biden made on the presidential campaign trail to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and release prisoners convicted of breaking certain federal cannabis laws.