Members of Congress Ask Obama to Lift Medical Marijuana Research

Several members of Congress have banded together in an attempt to pressure President Obama into eliminating some of the restrictions that have made it next to impossible for the scientific community to study the medicinal benefits of the cannabis plant.

Last Friday, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and a legion of bipartisan lawmakers from both the House and Senate dispatched a letter to the White House demanding the President respect the progress of marijuana reform across the nation by lifting the federal barriers on cannabis research so that the national debate can move forward with evidence rather than continue to struggle in a purgatory of propaganda.

“As states have attempted to expand access to medical treatments for their citizens, the federal government has a responsibility to act in a manner that allows patients to benefit from research on those treatments,” reads the letter signed by 26 Senators and Representatives. “Until we have comprehensive scientific research on the medical risks and benefits of cannabis and its derivatives, we will continue to debate this issue on the basis of outdated ideology instead of modern science.” 

Calling for two definitive actions, the lawmakers want the Obama Administration to “Direct the DEA to conduct a fair and transparent review of Schedule I restrictions on medical cannabis,” as well as “End the DEA-mandated monopoly” on the production of marijuana.

For over 40 years, marijuana has been classified a Schedule I dangerous drug under the confines of the Controlled Substances Act. Because the ranking suggests that drugs falling into this category have “no currently accepted medical use,” researchers have been challenged throughout the years to find federal approval for any study looking to uncover weed’s medicinal benefits. For those hoping to find dangers associated with the consumption of cannabis, well, that has been less complicated. Of course, the idea that this policy has remained unchanged for decades continues to frustrate advocates who are perplexed as to why it remains easier to study the medicinal benefits of cocaine in this country than it is for marijuana – a substance, lest we forget, that is currently legal for medical and recreational purposes in over half the nation.

Although the DEA announced earlier this month that it plans to decide whether or not to downgrade the Schedule I listing of the cannabis plant, Gillibrand and the other legislators pointed out, in their letter, that these types of rescheduling shenanigans have become a common sham among Uncle Sam’s leading drug enforcement henchman, rejecting multiple petitions to reclassify the herb over the past 43 years. It is for this reason that they want to hold the DEA accountable this time around, giving everyone from medical professionals right down to the average citizen a chance to have a voice in determining whether marijuana should be bumped down to a Schedule II or III. 

“Given previous issues with transparency in the scheduling process,” the lawmakers wrote. “We request that public hearings also be held to allow researchers, doctors, and patients an opportunity to inform this decision in an open, transparent manner.” 

In addition to rescheduling cannabis, lawmakers want President Obama to assist in tearing down the monopoly that prevents anyone other than the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) from growing research marijuana. For many years, the federal government has commissioned only the University of Mississippi for the cultivation all of the pot distributed for research purposes. Although this method of control is not the same for any other Schedule I substance, the DEA has maintained that the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs prevents this policy from being amended.

“We request that you direct the DEA Administrator to eliminate this barrier to research and grant additional licenses outside of the NIDA drug supply program to provide a supply of cannabis which is adequate to do medical research, up to the standards required by the DEA to prove “accepted medical use,” the lawmakers wrote

Whether the Obama Administration will respond to the letter is unknown. However, the President has suggested in the past that “what is and isn’t a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress.” Yet, there are currently over 20 marijuana-related bills collecting dust in the halls of the House and Senate. 

Furthermore, White House press secretary John Earnest told reporters earlier this year, that President Obama has no plans to reform marijuana at the national level before leaving office in 2017. 

But considering the nation is now home to 24 states with laws on the books supporting comprehensive medical marijuana programs, the federal government’s ability to ignore this issue, without taking some sort of action, is growing weaker by the day.

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