There are now over 3 million medical cannabis patients across the country; ninety-one percent of Americans now live in states with some form of access to medical cannabis, while sixty-six of American adults are in favor of full legalization. Despite this, cannabis retains its Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning the federal government considers it to be a dangerous, highly addictive substance with no medical value. This continues to cause numerous conflicts between the federal government and the states that have rolled out these health programs for their citizens. The only protection for these programs in federal law is the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment found in the Commerce Justice Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill which, as a budget bill, is subject to change each year. Plans for legalization at the federal level by different means have been introduced for years with little impact; H.R.3884, The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, was the first and only bill of this nature to clear a Congressional committee. It is time for a new approach to end the federal conflict on cannabis policy.
In our newest report, Ending the Federal Conflict: Changing the Paradigm on Medical Cannabis, Americans for Safe Access explores how to end this conflict through its groundbreaking draft legislation that creates an Office of Medical Cannabis Control (OMCC). This legislative language takes an entirely new approach to ending the conflict between the majority of states and the federal government on cannabis policy. In this report, we call for the descheduling of cannabis (or, failing that, the rescheduling of cannabis to a new Schedule V(A) that would allow for cannabis to be used as a frontline medication) and, through our draft legislation, for the creation of a federal oversight agency with centralized regulatory authority over medical cannabis research, production, and distribution.
Currently, nearly a dozen different federal agencies play a role in the decision-making processes relating to the scheduling of cannabis. These agencies differ from one another in their aims, methods, and missions. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services exists to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, while the Drug Enforcement Administration exists to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States. This promotes competition for funding among the various agencies involved and stymies progress on important research and federal recognition of cannabis as medicine – a feat dozens of other countries have managed to accomplish at the national level.
From a policy perspective, it is difficult to take the stance against the value cannabis has as medicine when 33 states have medical programs and another 14 grant other forms of access. These programs have been opening and expanding across states since California first legalized medical cannabis in 1996.
The draft legislation has two harmonizing goals:
1) Provide a New Federal Regulatory Framework for Cannabis:
Imagine if the nutrition facts found on food packaging were different on a state-by-state basis; think of what this would mean for people with medical dietary restrictions or for companies selling their products in multiple markets. This is the current state that cannabis packaging and testing standards leave medical patients and producers in. The OMCC is designed to bring the regulation of cannabis across the states under one roof to establish national oversight of operating licences, minimum standards for labeling and packaging, standards for cultivation, and standards for testing for pesticides, heavy metals, contaminants, adulterants, and other potential threats to health. States with more stringent rules than the federal guidelines would be allowed to keep them in place, while those which fall behind would have to improve their testing requirements to meet the new federal standards. Creating one central authority to ensure conformance with these standards should simplify the regulatory environment nationwide.
2) End Existing Restrictions on Federal Research and Unlock the Potential of Medical Cannabis:
Due to its current Schedule I status, research on cannabis in the U.S. is a regulatory catch-22. A medical school or private company that wants to conduct research on cannabis in 2020 would have to contact the FDA and the DEA to obtain permission. Each would reply in their own time; the FDA is required to respond in 30 days, while the DEA can take up to a year. Even if both agencies approved the request, the researchers would have to obtain the biomass intended for research from the only federally approved source: the National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIDA has a pattern of refusing to supply FDA- and DEA-approved studies with the plant material required to conduct the study, thereby keeping the study from happening. This cycle continues to suppress research that would allow skeptical lawmakers to see the necessity of descheduling cannabis.
The Office of Medical Cannabis Control that we propose to create would strip approval functions from the FDA and DEA and end NIDA’s monopoly on the supply of cannabis for research. Cannabis research authority would be centralized under the OMCC, which in turn would establish at least one federally funded medical cannabis research and development center, establish a federal system of laboratory standards, and create a program for certifying research on medical cannabis.
It is time to transfer regulatory authority for cannabis to a new agency that will prioritize conducting research, producing a wide range of cannabis products for medical use, and ensuring nationwide access to cannabis-based and cannabis-containing medicines. While passage of the MORE Act would do much to help medical cannabis patients, more must be done for the millions of Americans struggling with debilitating illness and chronic pain. This new federal agency would create a centralized regulatory authority, which would result in a consistent and predictable regulatory environment nationwide.
To learn more and view the full report and draft legislation, please visit safeaccessnow.org/omcc.