High-Ranking Democratic Senator Proposes Bill to Reschedule and Research Cannabis

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Senate's #2 Democrat under Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), sent a bill to the Senate floor in an effort to open opportunities for cannabis research.

Durbin's bill would reclassify cannabis from Schedule I status to Schedule III status under the Controlled Substances Act. Federal agencies would also be tasked with research objectives to learn more about marijuana's potential health benefits.

While not completely descheduling cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, moving it to Schedule III places cannabis in the same category as cough and cold medicine, as opposed to morphine, Oxycontin, and Vicodin. This would effectively lift research barriers that have hindered cannabis studies up to this point.

As Durbin said in his press release, "With some form of legalization on the books in over 30 states and now Illinois, I want to lift federal restrictions so we can conduct additional medical research on marijuana. We need a better understanding of promising uses of cannabis for treatment, as well as how marijuana use impacts public safety and specific populations – including children, pregnant women, and drivers."

Further provisions in Durbin's Expanding Cannabis Research and Information Act are:

  • Direct the NIH, CDC, and SAMHSA to develop a national cannabis research agenda. The agenda would prioritize key questions and gaps in evidence—including a study of diseases with the greatest potential benefit; how marijuana affects vulnerable populations; long-term effects; different modes of delivery; and public safety concerns.
  • Direct HHS to collect more data on cannabis use and impacts on health outcomes. Using public health surveys and analysis of public medical records, this would expand public health data collection on health outcomes and the variety of products used.
  • Establish an NIH research “Centers of Excellence” designation. The designation would streamline research by enabling qualified universities to undergo a single DEA facility/staff inspection that lasts for the entire 5-10 year duration, rather than needing specific approvals for each study and researcher. Additionally, the designation would expand the number of approved suppliers for marijuana cultivation for research.

Universities granted the NIH's "Center of Excellence" designation would also be able to grow and cultivate their own cannabis for research purposed. Currently, only one university is permitted by the federal government to grow cannabis for research: the University of Mississippi. By allowing more universities to grow their own cannabis, this would remove a heavy burden on Ole Miss as the sole grower for the U.S. and greatly improve the quality of cannabis research.

Granted, Durbin's bill is nowhere near as comprehensive as his state's recent progressive cannabis legislation, but it is a step toward legalization/descheduling at the federal level.

Durbin's bill is supported by the Illinois State Medical Society, Epilepsy Foundation, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Parkinson’s Foundation, Michael J. Fox Foundation, American Public Health Association, Chicago Medical Society.

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