A new congressional bill would provide $150 million in marijuana research funding for universities over five years, while allowing those institutions to obtain cannabis for studies through partnerships with state regulatory agencies and law enforcement.
The legislation, introduced by Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Joe Neguse (D-CO) on Monday, is titled the Higher Education Marijuana Research Act.
It would add universities and public entities to the list of marijuana manufacturer applicants that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would need to prioritize for research purposes, while also requiring yearly reports to Congress on that status of those applications and any reasons for denials.
“The legal, responsible use of cannabis has been a major economic driver in Nevada and across the country and deserves further research,” Titus said in a press release on Tuesday. “Most of that research will come from academia, where right now too many universities and researchers do not have robust protections for even possessing what they are researching.”
The legal, responsible use of cannabis has been a major economic driver in Nevada and deserves further study.
— Dina Titus (@repdinatitus) June 6, 2023
“As a former professor, I’m introducing this commonsense legislation to support their work and help us all learn more about the effects and potential uses of cannabis,” the congresswoman said.
One of the more interesting features of the measure is that it would allow universities located in legal states to “obtain or purchase marijuana from a State or tribal government marijuana regulatory body.”
Regulators aren’t typically involved in procuring cannabis from licensed retailers, but the idea behind the language is that it would give states flexibility to adopt new policies to have marijuana available through the government bodies for such purposes.
However they facilitate the access, universities would then be able to use that product to “study the type of marijuana in a State’s marketplace, public health considerations of marijuana policies in the State, and any potential medical benefits of marijuana.”
Cannabis that’s provided through partnerships with law enforcement, meanwhile, could not be administered to humans for clinical trials—which is likely partly due to health concerns about potentially contaminated unregulated products.
The bill further stipulates that students and researchers who are qualified to conduct and participate in the cannabis research would not lose eligibility for federal funding, student financial aid or face immigration penalties. The universities themselves would similarly be protected from any loss of funding related to the authorized research.
Within 90 days of enactment of the legislation, DEA would need to establish a Office of University Relations that would be required to “provide technical assistance to a researcher or institution of higher education seeking to register for the manufacture, distribution, or dispensation of a controlled substance” and “develop any technology necessary to provide the opportunity for a researcher or institution of higher education to amend an application prior to submission.”
Further, the measure states that, within 180 days of enactment, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would need to create a working group to make recommendations on how to “simplify and streamline the registration process” for universities seeking to manufacture marijuana for research.
That working group would need to consist of two representatives each from NIH, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), DEA and universities with experience studying cannabis. They would need to submit a report with findings and recommendations to various congressional committees within one year.
NIH would also have 90 days from enactment to establish a program within the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to provide grant funding to universities to support research into the potential medical benefits of marijuana. The bill authorizes the appropriation of $15 million for such grants each fiscal year from 2023-2027.
The program would need to prioritize approving grants to educational institutions that are located in legal cannabis jurisdictions, “accounting for geographic diversity and whether the institution of higher education is a minority institution.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would also need to create a separate grant program for universities “to study marijuana for agriculture purposes, including conservation and growth techniques, impacts on other crops, and the impact of different strains of marijuana on other crops.” The legislation authorizes the appropriation of $15 million annually to support grants that USDA would give out from fiscal year 2023-2027, with priority given to universities in legal states with consideration of geographic diversity and minority colleges.
Finally, the measure stipulates that international treaties prohibiting cannabis “shall not be construed to prohibit, or impose additional restrictions upon, research involving marijuana, or the manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana, that is conducted in accordance with the Controlled Substances Act.”
Morgan Fox, political director of NORML, said that “despite cannabis being one of the most heavily studied substances, there continue to be significant federal barriers to conducting additional research, particularly involving clinical trials and products that are available in regulated state-legal markets.”
“This bill will facilitate trusted university partners to engage in the kinds of research that will best equip state and federal lawmakers and regulators to develop effective cannabis policies based on public health and safety, will allow consumers to make more informed choices, and will help train the next generation of cannabis researchers,” he said.
Neguse, one of the bill’s original sponsors, previously sought to provide protections to public colleges and universities that conduct research on marijuana through amendments to earlier appropriations legislation, but those have not been enacted.
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This is one of the latest examples of congressional efforts to promote cannabis research as more states enact legal cannabis markets.
A controversial bill that cleared the House late last month to ramp up criminalization of fentanyl-related substances also contains additional provisions to streamline research into Schedule I drugs like marijuana and psychedelics, for example.
Some of the research provisions of the bill are similar to those contained in a marijuana-focused measure that President Joe Biden signed into law last year, giving the U.S. attorney general 60 days to either approve a given application or request supplemental information from a prospective research applicant. It also creates a more efficient pathway for researchers who request larger quantities of cannabis.
Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Andy Harris (R-MD) previously championed a separate cannabis research bill that advanced through their chamber last session. Unlike that legislation, however, the bill signed by Biden notably does not include a provision that scientists had welcomed that would have allowed researchers to access cannabis from state-legal dispensaries to study.
DEA has taken steps in recent years to approve new cultivators of marijuana to be used in studies.
Separately, NIDA is soliciting proposals for a series of research initiatives meant to explore how psychedelics could be used to treat drug addiction, with plans to provide $1.5 million in funding to support relevant studies.
Bipartisan congressional lawmakers also recently introduced a bill that would create a $75 million federal grant program to support research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for certain health conditions among active duty military service members.
Read the text of the Higher Education Marijuana Research Act below: