Senate approves cannabis research bill comparable to House measure

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On Tuesday, December 15, the Senate gave a bipartisan cannabis research bill the green light with the primary aim of encouraging studies into the plant’s medicinal properties/effects.

The Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act was initially filed in 2019. Following some minor amendments on the floor, it gained unanimous momentum. 

In addition to broadening scientific understanding of the plant’s primary active components, the revised bill could simplify the application process for researchers, not to mention influence the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to produce cannabis-derived medicines.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) the bill’s sponsors unsuccessfully attempted to include the Senate-approved cannabis research bill in an annually-renewed version of the National Defense Authorization Act this past June.

The cannabis research bill’s recent passing was confirmed one week after a different chunk of cannabis research legislation was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. Moreover, on December 4, the full House passed a pivotal measure to federally legalize cannabis by eliminating it from the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Time is ticking before the legislative session’s end 

With just the remainder of this month to go before the legislative session comes to an almighty end, advocates are hoping that the House’s recent approval of a separate bill will act as a catalyst for cannabis research legislation to gain the necessary approval from lawmakers.

Two scenarios could pan out: House lawmakers may urge for the proposal of a bill that is similar to their recently-advanced chunk of legislationwhich might delay lawmakers from coming to a united decision on a version that merges both House and Senate views or the House could send the Senate-approved bill to President Trump’s desk.

Among the aspects that distinguish the respective bills from one another, perhaps the most significant difference is that scientists could legally procure research-grade cannabis from state-legal dispensaries with the House version. This proposed rule is designed to prevent researchers from relying on the University of Mississippi the only federal government commissioned facility of its kind in the U.S.

Senate-approved cannabis research bill  has four main segments 

To improve overall understanding and highlight specific subjects with clarity, the bipartisan cannabis research bill was split into four different sections. 

The first chunk of information covered the application process for institutions that may be interested in gaining federal approval to research the cannabis plant. A 60-day deadline would determine which applicants are selected by the U.S. attorney general. Any rejected applicants would be requested to provide supplemental information. Researchers who demand larger quantities of Schedule I drugs could also gain approval via an accelerated application route.

In the cannabis research bill’s second section, lawmakers discuss the FDA’s approval process for cannabis-derived drugs. A summary of the second segment outlines how the FDA could be inspired to loosen restrictions on such drugs by permittingaccredited medical and osteopathic schools, practitioners, research institutions, and manufacturers with a Schedule I registration” to grow the plant for research purposes.

Under the terms of the Senate-approved cannabis research bill’s third section, a mandate would enable the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to approve applications for the manufacturing of FDA-approved drugs derived from the cannabis plant. In addition to this, cannabis manufacturers would be legally allowed to import plant materials for therapeutic research purposes.

Last, but not least, the fourth section discusses how the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would be required to assess the health benefits and risks of cannabis. Furthermore, the HHS must propose recommendations to sidestep research-restricting policies in states that have enacted cannabis laws.

Existing regulations make medical [cannabis] research difficult and have prevented us from understanding exactly how medical [cannabis] can be used safely and effectively to treat various conditions,” Feinstein said in a press release. “Our bill streamlines the research process and paves the way for [cannabis]-derived medications that are FDA-approved to treat serious medical conditions, like intractable epilepsy, in a way that will keep consumers safe.”

According to Grassley, the bipartisan cannabis research bill will prompt the FDA to safely and responsibly inspect CBD and medical [cannabis] products. Consequently, he says, the general public in America can start gaining the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision regarding future use of such products. 

“Researching [cannabis] is widely supported by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and it’s a smart step forward in addressing this current schedule I drug,” added Grassley.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are named as original cosponsors of the bill, which was backed by Americans for Safe Access, the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies and NORML. 

Numerous mainstream medical organizations have also accredited the proposal, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Psychological Association and American Society of Addiction Medicine.