WASHINGTON, D.C. — Although federal cannabis legalization may not be imminent, Congress is taking early steps to better understand how to research and regulate the complex plant.
The Health subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday, Jan. 15 joined the shortlist of subcommittees that have delved into cannabis. No votes were cast, nor policy decisions made, but the Committee did address questions about how cannabis is researched, possessed and consumed.
Cannabis remains a Schedule I substance — the most restrictive class and identified as having no medical use — resulting in a lack of comprehensive research. Research is hindered because of the Schedule I classification.
“The federal government has hidden behind that Catch-22 for a long, long time,” said Representative Joe Kennedy III, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
The University of Mississippi remains the sole supplier of research-grade cannabis for federally approved trials, and the cannabis that’s available for research has been assailed by scientists as “sub-par” material that does not accurately represent the diverse array of products — and potencies — available for sale in states that have legalized recreational cannabis.
Matthew Strait, senior policy adviser for the DEA’s Diversion Control Division, said the agency has sought to remove barriers to research and is moving “expeditiously” to craft additional regulations and expand the number of licensed cultivators.
The FDA’s ongoing review of the wildly popular cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD) remains ongoing, said Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director for regulatory programs at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation of Research. He indicated his agency is evaluating research to determine CBD’s safety and efficacy, weighing non-drug pathways for compounds derived from federally legal hemp and creating avenues for new drug development involving cannabis compounds.
During their questioning, subcommittee members referenced several of the active cannabis-related bills before Congress and asked if rescheduling or even de-scheduling cannabis would solve some of these ongoing conflicts.