Marijuana Haters, Pot Advocates Agree on Something? New Policy on MMJ Study

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Advocates of marijuana reform and folks who feel changes like limited legalization of recreational sales in Colorado and elsewhere have already gone too far seldom agree on anything.

Let alone federal cannabis policy.

Now, however, a move by the Obama administration to make it easier to test medical marijuana's medical efficacy seems primed to make both sides happy — albeit for very different reasons.

Today, the White House reportedly confirmed that it's streamlined the process by which researchers can get federal permission to study medical marijuana.

The document setting the new policy in place — it's scheduled to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow — is on view below, and it revolves around a Public Health Service review that privately funded marijuana researchers must pass before being allowed to move ahead.

Marijuana is unique in this respect among Schedule I drugs — substances that the federal government has determined have no medical application. Only private researchers investigating marijuana have had to undergo the PHS review.

That's now changed, and the Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell is pleased. In an e-mail statement to Westword, he writes, "The president has often said that drug policy should be dictated by unimpeded science instead of ideology, and it’s great to see the Obama administration finally starting to take some real action to back that up."

That's also the viewpoint of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an organization known as Project SAM when it was launched in Denver circa January 2013 at a press conference featuring two of its central figures, ex-Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Kevin Sabet, a former drug-policy adviser for both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

Late last month, SAM released a proposal dubbed "Researching Marijuana’s Medical Potential Responsibly: A Six Point Plan," and as noted in release issued by the organization, the third of the six asked the feds to "eliminate the Public Health Service (PHS) review for marijuana research applications."

Why does SAM support this policy change and others? A statement by Sabet about the report suggests that the organization feels efforts to legalize medical marijuana federally might be delayed or staved off entirely by arguing that such moves should wait until legitimate research establishes whether cannabis actually helps patients or not.

“For too long, simplistic and dangerous recommendations such as marijuana legalization or even rescheduling have been presented as the only ways to do legitimate research on marijuana’s therapeutic potential,” Sabet maintains. “But there are so many things the government could do to offer the seriously ill experimental medications while not endangering public health through legalization. This report shows them how.”

In contrast, Angell is among those who clearly believe marijuana studies will prove once and for all that the substance has medical benefits. But he doesn't think President Obama should stop with simply lifting the PHS review obstacle.

"There’s more to be done," he writes: "The next step should be moving marijuana out of Schedule I to a more appropriate category, which the administration can do without any further Congressional action.

"Given what the president and surgeon general have already said publicly about marijuana’s relative harms and medical uses, it’s completely inappropriate for it to remain in a schedule that’s supposed to be reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and no therapeutic value. Hopefully today’s action is a sign of more to come."

Look below to see the document establishing the new policy, followed by the SAM report.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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