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Marijuana Foes, Friends Agree on Need for Research

House appropriators have a bipartisan curiosity about pot.

Lawmakers added a provision to the fiscal year 2016 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill that would direct the Drug Enforcement Administration to research how well medical marijuana works.

Outspoken House members from both sides of the medical marijuana debate back the effort because both sides expect the science to support their position.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., a physician and House Appropriations Committee member who last year said, “This is not a medicine,” in a floor debate, worked to include the provision in the bill. The language became part of the $51.4 billion C-J-S bill in an 11-page manager’s amendment on Wednesday.

“He believes that our drug policy should be based on sound science, which is sorely lacking in the medical efficacy of marijuana,” Harris spokeswoman Shelby Hodgkins said. “More research needs to be done on the medical efficacy of marijuana.”

Harris last year was emphatic during a floor debate. “There is more and more evidence every day that it’s not safe,” he said. 

He has read study after study on the devastating effects of marijuana use, especially on developing brains of teenagers, Hodgkins said.

But Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., a backer of medical marijuana laws, believes the evidence shows that marijuana is effective in treating certain conditions but more research would help, an aide said.

“Federal policies have prevented significant research into the benefits of medical marijuana,” Farr spokesman Adam Russell said. “If we can finally do that research, [Farr] thinks the science will support what many patients have seen: That medical marijuana has a place in our society.”

Under the fiscal 2016 spending bill, the DEA would have to review its rules about research on medical marijuana and “determine ways to facilitate further research through streamlining the DEA approval process.”

The DEA must license marijuana researchers, and the marijuana for studies must come from the government. In April, the DEA announced it wants to more than triple the amount of marijuana it produces for research to 400,000 grams to keep up with demand.

Critics such as the Drug Policy Alliance have said the DEA could end the monopoly on research-grade marijuana, or reschedule the drug so that it is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration instead.

“The DEA has argued for decades that there is insufficient evidence to support rescheduling marijuana or the medical use of marijuana,” the alliance said in a 2014 report. “At the same time, it has–along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse–acted in a manner intended to systematically impede scientific research.”

Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced a bill (S 683) that would let states set their own medical marijuana policies and reschedule marijuana, among other changes. Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Don Young, R-Alaska, introduced the companion bill (HR 1538) in the House.

Under the spending bill provision, the agency would have to collaborate with the National Institute of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse to facilitate research. Then the DEA would have to report what they found to the committee in four months.

The provision is the latest in the House’s tug-of-war over medical marijuana.

In December, Harris put language in the government funding legislation aimed at stopping Washington, D.C., from enacting the district’s pot decriminalization measure. But the House also included language that required the federal government to respect state sovereignty over medical marijuana laws, including Washington’s, something pressed by Farr.

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