A Tennessee congressman has introduced legislation that would allow the federal government to research the benefits of marijuana.
Rep. Steve Cohen, Democrat, is pushing a bill that would lift a ban that currently prevents any research that might explore the medical uses of marijuana or its potential legalization as a recreational drug.
As things stand, no federal agency may endorse marijuana legalization or even conduct research into the drug’s medical benefits.
Specifically, a law passed by Congress in 1998 requires that the Office of National Drug Control Policy oppose “any and all efforts to liberalize criminal laws associated with the plant.” The ONDCP, which is headed by the nation’s so-called “drug czar,” is an executive agency that coordinates federal drug policy.
The law also requires that the drug czar ensure that “no Federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act and take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance (in any form) that . . . has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.”
The effect of these policies is to prevent almost all American scientific research into medical or recreational marijuana. Almost all such research is done in Israel and other countries where MMJ is fully legal.
Twenty-one states have adopted medical pot, while two have legalized recreational weed, but the drug remains illegal at the federal level. Changing that would require a sharp left turn, either by Congress or by the Obama administration.
As a matter of federal law, marijuana can’t be used for medical or any other purposes because it’s listed on Schedule I of the government’s categories of controlled substances. That schedule is reserved for the drugs the government believes to be the most dangerous, the most addictive and the least medically useful.
Cannabis could be moved to a less restrictive schedule, either by legislation or by Attorney General Eric Holder. But neither of these outcomes is likely anytime in the near future.
President Obama recently said he believes weed is safer than alcohol, and he suggested he might be open to a change in marijuana’s place in the drug schedules. But he passed the buck to Congress, saying only they should make the change.
With any such action nowhere on the horizon, lawmakers are trying to move small steps forward. Cohen said he introduced his bill because “not only is the ONDCP the only federal office required by law to oppose rescheduling marijuana even if it is proven to have medical benefits, but it is also prohibited from studying if that could even be true.”