What is the Medical Cannabis Research Act?

The Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018 could prove to be a game-changer…if Congress votes in favor of it.
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A bill that would require the federal government to approve more facilities for the cultivation of cannabis for medical research is up for a vote in Congress this week. The bill, the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018 (H.R. 5634), would require the attorney general to ensure that an adequate and uninterrupted supply of research-grade cannabis is available.

The measure requires the attorney general to increase the number of approved cannabis suppliers to at least three and establishes “safe harbor” provisions for research facilities. The bill, which has bipartisan support from 40 cosponsors, is scheduled for a vote by the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Currently, a University of Mississippi farm is the only facility authorized by the federal government to provide cannabis to researchers. However, cannabis is not always available for study and when it is, it is often of poor quality.

Bill Supports Cannabis Research

Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, the bill’s sponsor, said that H.R. 5634 will further the research into the medical applications of cannabis.

“This bipartisan cannabis reform legislation will improve the quality of scientific research on cannabis, while protecting research institutions nationwide,” Gaetz said in a press release when he introduced the bill in April.

“I fully believe that this bill has a chance to pass this Congress and be signed into law by the President, who expressed his support for medical cannabis during his campaign,” he added.

Gaetz noted that the bill is a milestone for the committee.

“It is monumental for the House Judiciary Committee to consider cannabis-related legislation,” he said. “They have not tackled legislation on this topic since 1978, before I was born. I have been assured that the committee will take up my legislation, however; the Medical Cannabis Research Act was cosponsored by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, and his office was instrumental in helping to draft the final legislation.”

Some Shut Out From Opportunity

Although the bill has bipartisan support, some cannabis reform advocates disagree with one provision that would require all employees of approved cultivators to “have completed a criminal background check for all personnel involved in the operations of the manufacturer pursuant to this subsection to confirm that such personnel have no conviction for a felony or drug-related misdemeanor,” according to the text of the legislation. Some reformers believe that the prohibition continues the disproportionate effect of the war on drugs on minority communities.

Mason Tvert, the communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told High Times that while the advocacy group has not taken a position on H.R. 5634, it is generally against denying opportunity to those with non-violent drug records.

“MPP does not believe individuals should be broadly shut out of these types of opportunities due to past convictions, especially if they were non-violent marijuana-related offenses that did not involve minors,” Tvert said in an email.

Gaetz told Forbes that while he didn’t necessarily agree with the prohibition, it was a necessary provision to obtain the support of conservative legislators.

“For many of my Republican colleagues, the most difficult marijuana reform vote to take is the first one,” said Gaetz. “I’m trying to create the most comfortable setting for marijuana skeptics to do something right by their constituents, and that process can yield imperfect legislation that is directionally correct.”

Cannabis Catch-22

Gaetz said that if successful, the Medical Cannabis Research Act will rectify a dilemma of U.S. cannabis policy.

“Cannabis has always faced a Catch-22 in Congress: we can’t change cannabis laws without doing research, but we can’t do more research without changing the law,” said Gaetz. “Our bill finally breaks that logjam. This legislation will make a tremendous difference to researchers nationwide, who may finally be able to develop cures for illnesses that affect many of America’s most vulnerable populations.”

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