By Kirsten Korosec
September 13, 2017

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch introduced a Senate bill on Wednesday that would make it easier to research the potential medical benefits of marijuana and whether it’s a safe and effective alternative to opioids.

The bill, known as the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017, or MEDS Act, is being introduced at a time when the U.S. is grappling with an opioid crisis that has caused teen overdose deaths rates to spike, a significant drop in U.S. labor force participation—particularly among American men, and has prompted President Trump to declare it a national emergency.

Hatch, who is Mormon, is still opposed to recreational use of marijuana. But he noted, in prepared remarks filled with marijuana-related puns, that it’s time to remove barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana.

It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana. Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana. All the while, the federal government strains to enforce regulations that sometimes do more harm than good. To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.

The bill, hopes to encourage research in potential medical uses of marijuana by streamlining the research registration process and make marijuana more available for scientific and medical research and the commercial production of any FDA-approved drugs derived from marijuana. If passed, the U.S. Attorney General would be required increase the national marijuana quota in a timely manner to meet the changing medical, scientific, and industrial needs for marijuana.

The bill would include protections to ensure controlled marijuana substances are not abused, according to Hatch’s office. National Institute on Drug Abuse would be required to develop and publish recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing marijuana for research.

Here’s an excerpt of the speech he is expected to deliver on the Senate floor at 3:30 p.m. ET:

It will surprise no one that I am strongly against the use of recreational marijuana. I worry, however, that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis. While I certainly do not support the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, the evidence shows that cannabis possesses medicinal properties that can truly change people’s lives for the better. And I believe, Mr. President, that we would be remiss if we threw out the baby with the bathwater.
We lack the science to support use of medical marijuana products like CBD oils not because researchers are unwilling to do the work, but because of bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation. Under current law, those who want to complete research on the benefits of medical marijuana must engage in a complex application process and interact with several federal agencies. These regulatory acrobatics can take researchers over a year, if not more, to complete. And the longer researchers have to wait, the longer patients have to suffer.

Senators Schatz (D-HI). Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) are co-sponsors of the bill. There are other marijuana medical research bills that have been introduced to the Senate this year, including the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States, or CARERS Act by Senators Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Corey Booker (D-New Jersey) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York).

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