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Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz Pushes Medical Marijuana Research

The freshman congressman has already become a notorious public figure. Now, he’s joined a group of lawmakers to expand medical cannabis research nationwide.

Adam Drury

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Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz Pushes Medical Marijuana Research
Senior Airman Meagan Schutter/Hurlburt Field

Sensing a change of prevailing political winds on the issue of cannabis, Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz is defying conventional opinion. “A lot of people think we can’t pass cannabis reform in a GOP-controlled Congress,” Gaetz told the Tampa Bay Times. But with the deck stacked overwhelmingly against an end to the federal ban on cannabis, Gaetz remains optimistic. He thinks Congress can move forward on medical cannabis reform.

GOP Congressman Wants To Give Medical Marijuana Researchers Better Weed

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has a close relationship with President Donald Trump. To call Gaetz an avid supporter of Trump would be an understatement. In fact, GQ named Gaetz the “Trumpiest Congressman in Washington.”

Gaetz also makes frequent appearances on cable news. He’s railed against the Mueller investigation, went to bat for Trump after his “shithole countries” comment sparked outrage and even invited the controversial Chuck Johnson (known for denying the Holocaust) to accompany him to Trump’s State of the Union address.

But a favorite subject for the freshman congressman is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he ridicules and taunts relentlessly.

Last month, Gaetz and several colleagues made Sessions the target of the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018, which seeks to improve the quality and reliability of cannabis researchers use to study the plant’s use as a medicine.

New Bill Would Force AG Jeff Sessions To Expand Federal Cannabis Research

For years, medical marijuana researchers have decried the limited availability of research-grade cannabis. Currently, all federally-approved cannabis studies must obtain their samples from a single government-authorized source, the University of Mississippi.

Not only do supply levels of those samples fluctuate due to dependence on a single source, but the quality is reportedly quite low. “It is extremely subpar,” Gaetz said.

Low-quality cannabis compromises research quality. In many studies, researchers use samples with lower potency and cannabinoid concentrations. Samples are sometimes so bad that they’re covered in mold, which can make patients ill.

Put simply, the stuff in the lab is nothing like the stuff available in the dispensary.

Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz’s new bill would change that. In April, Gaetz joined a bipartisan coalition of 26 cosponsors who introduced a medical cannabis research act that would remove many of the immediate barriers blocking research in the U.S.

The bill would protect researchers and institutions studying cannabis, as well as patients in clinical trials, from penalties or criminal charges. And that’s crucial, considering many universities refuse to research cannabis out of fear of losing federal funding.

The legislation would also require the Attorney General to ensure an adequate and uninterrupted supply of research-grade cannabis. Finally, the bill would increase the number of federally-authorized producers from one to at least three.

Since Trump took office, his administration’s saber-rattling about an aggressive reboot to the country’s war on drugs has chilled efforts at drug reform in some places and energized them in others. Despite his enthusiastic support for the Trump agenda, Rep. Gaetz is joining with the latter forces.

And while his proposal is a small step—it does nothing to alter the legal status of cannabis—it’s still a crucial one. Gaetz is fully confident the Republican-controlled Congress can pass the bill and that the president will sign it. If it becomes law, the legislation will make a significant difference to cannabis researchers in the United States.

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