US Congress discuss lifting federal restrictions

The US House Committee on Energy and Commerce has begun to investigate how to research and regulate the rapidly emerging cannabis industry.

Talks of removing the federal ban on
cannabis in addition to expanding research on the potential medicinal benefits
are being carried out.

The United States has suffered with
rigorous cannabis laws on a federal level over the past decade, due to the Controlled
Substances Act
of 1970, which classifies it as a
schedule 1 substance, deemed to be of high abuse potential and having no
medical use.

The controversial act was signed into
law by Richard Nixon in an attempt
to tackle drug use and international drugs smuggling in the United States. The
result was drastically increased lengths of prison sentences for drug dealers
and users, with many claiming the act had hidden racist and political agendas.

Some states disagree with the present
schedule and have gone against the status quo by legalising cannabis for both
recreational and medicinal use, with policies varying considerably regarding
the use of it. Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia (DC) allow for
the legalised use of medicinal cannabis, as well as the recreational use being
legalised in 11 states and the DC.

Despite remaining prohibited under
federal law, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment prevents citizens operating under
the current state medical cannabis laws to avoid federal prosecution,
protecting medical cannabis patients.

The recent hearing has signalled that a new change is on the horizon, as the health subcommittee and other selected subcommittees joined together last Wednesday in a three hour long discussion on the topic of how to regulate the industry, considering it is now legal among numerous states across the US.

Way ahead

“The states are way ahead of where we are federally,” Representative Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon stated.

Greg Walden

One of the main issues raised during
the monumental hearing was that, due to cannabis remaining in the schedule 1
category and being considered as having zero medicinal use because of a lack of
research, further necessary research into the medicinal properties is being
hindered because of the restrictive classification it is listed under.

Being under the schedule 1
classification means that there are significant barriers in undertaking new
research on the substance, particularly from a federally funded standpoint.

Considering the accelerated rate in
which new states are becoming more open to legalising cannabis both medically
and recreationally, new research from the most educated and professional bodies
is crucial.

Officials from the US Food and Drug
Administration, the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the National
Institutes of Health provided testimonies on why there needs to be more
research carried out on cannabis to remedy against the legal grey area.

“The federal government has hidden behind that Catch-22 for a long, long time,” said Representative Joe Kennedy III, a democrat from Massachusetts.

Joe Kennedy III

It was also noted that the cannabis that has been supplied for medical testing is “sub-par” material that does not represent the frequently sold cannabis strains in dispensaries.

Medicinal benefits

To resolve the problem of insufficient
research being done on the medicinal benefits of cannabis, the Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) is now attempting to remove barriers to research by
crafting additional regulations as well as expanding on the number of licensed

In addition to the DEA’s involvement,
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also pledged to continue research on
determining the safety and efficiency of cannabidiol (CBD), which has
experienced a boom in popularity advancing from oils and tinctures to
CBD-infused foods, cosmetics and pet food.

Among a number of active
cannabis-related bills discussed in the hearing was the MORE Act - one of the
most comprehensive cannabis bills put forward to the US congress in which the
federal de-scheduling of cannabis is the main aim.

The bill also proposes that federal
taxes should be applied to cannabis sales, the criminal records of those
previously convicted of cannabis-related crimes should be expunged and more
opportunities should to be provided to minorities affected most by the War on

Another two bills discussed are
directly related to facilitating further scientific and medical research on
cannabis, the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2019 and the Medical Marijuana
Research Act of 2019.

Some other examples of substances
currently listed under schedule 1 alongside cannabis are: heroin, lysergic acid
diethylamide (LSD), peyote, methaqualone and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine

Fentanyl, an opioid medication considered to be 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin is situated in the Schedule 2 classification, which may appear to be confusing. However, it this simply due to it possessing accepted medicinal benefits.


The main criteria for a substance to
be listed under the schedule 1 category is that it has no accepted medical use,
which is contradictory for the 33 states that currently use cannabis for a
variety of issues such as headaches, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and some

Due to the current scheduling system,
it is potentially easier to acquire funding for cocaine research than cannabis

During the hearing,
the question of whether the best option would be rescheduling or possibly de-scheduling
cannabis was put forward, in which Dr Nora Volkow, director of the NIH’s
National Institute on Drug Abuse shared her viewpoint that “de-scheduling
cannabis may indeed accelerate research”. However, she went on to add that it “may
have unintended, negative consequences” such as decreased perception of the
potential harm and risks.

The fact that the topic of cannabis is
appearing more frequently in top level discussions amongst influential
establishments and groups is reassuring for US citizens, as well as the
industry. Along with the potential medicinal benefits being explored further,
it can only result in positive leaps for the medical field and for those in need
of new treatments.

While widespread legalisation of cannabis on a federal level remains a distant possibility, the fact that the House Committee is open to researching the drug shows how far the US has come from the archaic War on Drugs decades ago.     

New York governor hints at legalisation…

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