The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bipartisan bill to expedite research into potential medical uses of cannabis and its derivatives, including CBD.
A previous version of the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act — sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii — passed the chamber during the lame-duck session in December 2020 on a voice vote.
"Current rules and regulations make it hard for researchers to study how marijuana and marijuana-derived medications can best be used to treat various conditions," Feinstein said in a statement. "This important legislation will cut the red tape around the research process, helping get FDA-approved, marijuana-derived medications safely to patients."
The bill would require the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to license additional cannabis growers and streamline the approval process that researchers must go through to work with the drug.
Grassley said in a statement that the bill "will empower the FDA to analyze CBD and medical marijuana products in a safe and responsible way so that the American public can decide whether to utilize them in the future based on sound scientific data."
Expanding opportunities to research cannabis represents one of the few areas in marijuana reform where there is broad consensus on both sides of the aisle — and both sides of the legalization question.
Marijuana's status as a Schedule I substance has been a significant obstacle to performing the research that both advocates and opponents of legalization say is required. The University of Mississippi's National Center for Natural Products Research has been the sole grower of research marijuana approved by the DEA since the early 1970s.
Lawmakers, scientists and advocates have frequently decried the bottleneck in Mississippi for severely limiting the quantity and diversity of cannabis strains available for trials — especially when compared with the variety of marijuana products available in the states where marijuana is legal.
The bill is also co-sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
A similar House bill that also passed swiftly during the 2020 lame-duck session — the Medical Marijuana Research Act — was reintroduced in October as H.R. 5657. The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Andy Harris, R-Md., who has opposed marijuana legalization in the past.
The House bill would require the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop guidelines on how researchers can use cannabis sold by state-licensed dispensaries.
It would also require the U.S. attorney general to review applications by researchers seeking approval to conduct studies using locally sold cannabis, and streamline a process whereby researchers who have already received approval can change the scope or nature of their studies.