Feds' War on Medical Marijuana Research Must End, Report Argues

Back in June, we told you about a new federal policy intended to make medical marijuana research easier to accomplish — the removal of what was known as the Public Health Service review, which privately funded marijuana researchers had to pass before being allowed to move ahead with their studies.

As a bonus, the move was supported by cannabis-law reformers and pot opponents alike.

But authors John Hudak and Grace Wallack hardly see the review-related shift as solving the broader problem.

In "Ending the U.S. Government’s War on Medical Marijuana Research," a Brookings Institution report on view below in its entirety, they argue that there remain far too many obstacles to meaningful MMJ research — and they believe it's past time that they be eliminated.

Hudak has been following the changes in marijuana laws in Colorado and beyond for quite some time. In August 2014, we told you about a previous Hudak-penned report in which he concluded that Colorado's legal pot roll-out was succeeding.

The new piece also makes prominent mention of Colorado in the following passage:
Take for example, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who frequently discusses the depth of the challenge he and his administration faced when voters approved Amendment 64, legalizing recreational marijuana. With no existing states with similar systems and meager information about what a legal and regulatory framework should look like, the implementation of this reform was tremendously risky. Ultimately, the Hickenlooper administration fared quite well in this arena, but was not a safe bet in November 2012. In the context of recreational marijuana, that policy blindness is a bit understandable. When it happens in the context of medical marijuana, there is no excuse for the dearth of scientific information and no one is more to blame for that shortcoming than the United States government.
This last statement is a theme to which Hudak and Wallack return frequently in their latest offering. While they acknowledge that the removal of the PHS review indicates that "more policymakers are beginning to think that...marijuana deserves at least to be studied with the same availability as heroin or LSD," they continue to feel that "statutory, regulatory, bureaucratic and cultural barriers have paralyzed science and threatened the integrity of research freedom in this area."

They add: "It is time for the federal government to recognize the serious public policy risks born from limited medical, public health and pharmaceutical research into cannabis and its use."

Marijuana continues to be listed by the feds as a Schedule I substance — meaning that it has no accepted medical use. Those in favor of progressive cannabis policies have long argued that marijuana should be placed on Schedule II, as the following timeline of rescheduling petitions demonstrates:

Another section shows that such rescheduling is hardly unprecedented.

Indeed, one of the substances to have been moved from one schedule to another is Marinol, a cannabis-based medication.

Here's a graphic featuring this example and others:

Hudak and Wallack debunk commonly held misconceptions about the effect of moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II in the following passage:
Rescheduling will not suddenly legalize marijuana. It would not even solve the policy disjunction that exists between states and the federal government on the question of marijuana legality — or even value. Nor does rescheduling mean that medical marijuana will line the shelves of commercial or hospital pharmacies. Before the federal government would sanction marijuana as a substance both with medical value and prescribed use, it would need rigorous clinical testing through FDA — an arduous and uncertain process that is already heavily regulated.
In their conclusion, Hudak and Wallack stress that "it's time to stop letting outdated policy prevent the scientific community from advancing knowledge and ensuring that patients and practitioners understand the benefits and risks of medical marijuana."

Here's the report.

Ending the US Government's War on MMJ Research

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts