House Judiciary Chair Backs Bill to Ease Restrictions on Medical Marijuana Research

House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte / Getty Images
April 25, 2018

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is backing legislation to ease restrictions on scientific research involving the medicinal effects of cannabis.

Goodlatte, who is retiring from Congress this year, announced Tuesday he would co-sponsor the Medical Cannabis Research Act that Rep. Matthew Geatz (R., Fla.) is expected to introduce, according to Bloomberg.

Gaetz's legislation would increase the number of cannabis manufacturers who are federally approved to cultivate the drug for research purposes. The legislation would also provide "safe harbor" for researchers and patients in clinical trials studying the effects of medicinal marijuana.

Under current law, any public college or university could be at risk of losing federal funding if the institution participates in testing drugs the federal government has regulated under the Controlled Substances Act. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, defining it as having "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse" and placing it in the same category as heroin and LSD.

Furthermore, the legislation would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to refer patients for medical marijuana clinical trials. The legislation would also remove restrictions that hamper the agency's researchers from studying the medicinal effects of cannabis.

The legislation comes after the Trump administration announced it would not crack down on states that had legalized the drug, reversing a January directive by Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordering federal prosecutors to enforce federal prohibitions on marijuana. The reversal was a result of intense pressure from Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) and other members of Congress who represented states that had implemented their own laws governing the drug.

The bill mirrors similar legislation introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) in September.

Goodlatte's backing could prove consequential in shepherding the legislation through the judiciary committee. Gaetz, a first-term Republican, serves on the committee but is one of its most junior members.

The legislation has also garnered the backing of Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.), Karen Handel (R., Ga.), Alcee Hastings (D., Fla.), Darren Soto (D., Fla.), Steve Cohen (D., Tenn.), and Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.).