Biden makes history by signing landmark marijuana research bill into law

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(This story was updated at 4:27 p.m. ET with comment from the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.)

President Joe Biden made history on Friday when he became the first American president to sign marijuana-specific reform legislation into law.

Biden affixed his signature to the bipartisan Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act, the White House announced.

The landmark legislation, which is intended to make it easier for scientific researchers to study the plant, also calls on the federal government to look into the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana and could thus help steer the ongoing rescheduling review Biden launched in October.

Co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dianne Feinstein, D-California, as well as key members of the House who support marijuana reform, including U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, Nancy Mace, R-South Carolina, and Dave Joyce, R-Ohio.

The first marijuana reform bill to be passed by both chambers of Congress after it cleared the Senate last month via a process called unanimous consent, the bill allows research universities – including those that receive federal funding, which, to date, have been wary of dealing with the federally illegal drug – as well as private companies to acquire U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration licenses to grow and handle cannabis for research purposes.

There are currently only seven institutions with DEA permits to grow cannabis for research.

The bill also directly instructs the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to research “the therapeutic potential of marijuana,” though it also requires the agency to study how cannabis might impair the development of adolescent brains as well as the ability to operate a motor vehicle.

‘Monumental step’

“Today marks a monumental step in remedying our federal cannabis laws,” U.S. Reps. Blumenauer, Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, Barbara Lee, D-California, and Brian Mast, R-Florida – all co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus –  said in a statement late Friday.

The bill potentially opens up a new line of business for firms pursuing cannabis-based treatments, including pharmaceutical giants.

And if the research is successful, it eventually could lead to marijuana-based products marketed and sold using medical claims based in science, without running afoul of the U.S. Food and Dru Administration.

“Research is foundational for the path forward on cannabis policy,” the lawmakers added.

“We celebrate the enactment of this critical and long-overdue legislation, and we know there is much more to do to remedy the ongoing harms of the failed war on drugs.”

 The historic moment comes on the heels of Biden’s requested rescheduling review, and this bill could have a direct and significant impact on that process.

Both the U.S. Department of Justice and DHHS are on notice to review whether their stances on cannabis are consistent with current science and the law.

Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance, classified as dangerous and addictive as heroin, a designation that also ensures MJ businesses can’t deduct typical business expenses on their taxes and complicates otherwise simple tasks such as accessing banking services.

When determining what recommendations to make on where marijuana should be placed in the Controlled Substances Act, “we’re going to take a look at what science tells us and what the evidence tells us,” DHHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said at a Friday event unrelated to Biden’s signing.

The new law also allows doctors to discuss the “potential harms and benefits” of cannabis with their patients.

More reform on the table

The research bill is the first of several marijuana reform measures currently under consideration by this lame-duck Congress to reach the president’s desk.

Also on Friday, cannabis stocks jumped after a round of fresh speculation that there would be movement on SAFE Banking, a bill that would prohibit federal banking regulators from punishing financial institutions that open accounts for state-legal marijuana businesses.

The SAFE Banking Act passed the House several times. But the measure remains stalled in the Senate, where it currently has 42 co-sponsors, including nine Republicans in the 50-50 Senate.

Sixty votes are required to beat the filibuster and advance controversial legislation under Senate rules.

Chris Roberts can be reached at