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Federal Agencies May Soon Start Researching Medical Marijuana

Senators introduce measure to reclassify drug for research purposes.

A bipartisan group of senators is pushing to finally enable federal agencies to research potential medical benefits of marijuana, introducing a bill to take the substance off the strictest Schedule I classification for studies.  

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced the Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act to require the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to “complete an analysis to determine the medical value” of cannabidiol -- a major extract of the marijuana plant. Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., cosponsored the bill.

Feinstein said the measure would help reduce the bureaucracy that blocks federal research.

“I strongly believe that more research into the potential medical benefits of marijuana, specifically cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana, is needed,” Feinstein said. “This narrowly focused bill takes a responsible approach by cutting the red tape associated with marijuana research.”

Cannabidiol has shown positive effects for illnesses such as epilepsy in children, the lawmakers said, but a lack of research has prevented more information from coming to light.

“Research is necessary to determine the potential medical value of cannabidiol,” Grassley said, “and wherever possible, the government should help facilitate the scientific research needed to give these parents the answers they need.”

Federal research on any element of marijuana has to date been restricted by “extremely stringent regulations,” the lawmakers said, creating “a significant obstacle to medical developments.”

The measure would classify cannabidiol as a schedule II drug when used for research. It would allow accredited research institutions and pharmaceutical companies located in states with legalized medical marijuana to conduct research authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.

The bill would also legalize the possession of cannabidiol -- a non-psychoactive component of marijuana -- for parents with children with epilepsy.

Federal employees themselves, however, are still prohibited from consuming marijuana in any form -- even in states that have legalized it.