Removal of marijuana research barrier could lead to big business benefits down the road

cannabis studies

By Tony C. Dreibus

The Obama administration’s decision to eliminate a regulatory hurdle for medical cannabis studies might help spur new research that could lead to a reclassification of marijuana at the federal level, which would be a game-changer for the industry.

The Department of Health and Human Services is expected to publish a notice today saying it will end a required Public Health Service review of non-federally funded research involving medical marijuana.

Officials concluded that the review is nearly identical to one already required by the Food and Drug Administration, making it redundant.

While not a watershed move in and of itself, the development could be the first domino to fall when it comes to cannabis research, leading to a further relaxation of requirements at the federal level and an increased number of studies into the medical value of marijuana, experts said.

“The research is coming and it’s going to be more unbiased and more useful than it has been in the past,” said Aari Ruben, the owner of Desert Bloom Re-Leaf Center in Tucson, Arizona. “This isn’t the Holy Grail for medical marijuana research. This isn’t going to by itself drastically change things but it’s a small shift in the right direction.”

If new studies find that marijuana is beneficial, support would likely grow to change marijuana’s current classification as a Schedule I drug, which under federal definition means it has no medicinal value.

A rescheduling of marijuana would allow banks to more easily do business with cannabis companies, make it less difficult for businesses to expand geographically and lower the risk of federal prosecution.

“It would allow interstate commerce in the space, facilitate research (and) improve the business environment – for example banking, taxes, credit card processing and lending,” Ruben said. It also, however, may allow “big industries – alcohol, tobacco and big pharma – to come in and possibly take over.”

Several big hurdles remain on the research front, though.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has sole control over the nation’s supply of medical marijuana for research, which also must end before any meaningful studies can be done, said Suzanne Sisley, a doctor and noted medical marijuana researcher.

The government currently allows only one marijuana production facility – in Mississippi – to provide all cannabis used by U.S. researchers. Scientists who want to study the positive medical benefits of cannabis are often left without marijuana for studies because NIDA is focused on the negative impacts.

Allowing researchers to obtain marijuana from other producers would go a long way in furthering research, Sisley said.

“The next and even more crucial reform is ending the (NIDA) monopoly on DEA-licensed marijuana that can be used in FDA-regulated research,” said Sisley, who is also the medical director at dispensary White Mountain Health Center in Sun City, Arizona.

“Once there are privately-funded, DEA-licensed medical marijuana producers, then the question of the medical use of marijuana will be evaluated by the FDA based on scientific data, the same as with all other drugs.”

Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said now that the PHS review has been done away with, NIDA’s hold on marijuana for research should be eliminated.

A hearing will be held regarding medical marijuana-related research on Wednesday in the U.S. Senate, he said.

“We expect there will be some tough questions about NIDA’s monopoly,” said Riffle, who praised the White House for adhering to policies that are based in science rather than politics.

Schedule I drugs, as defined by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, are those that have no medical use, are unsafe to use even under medical supervision and have a high potential for abuse. Along with marijuana, heroin, ecstasy and peyote are Schedule I drugs.

By that definition, marijuana shouldn’t be considered in the same tier as the others, said Tom Angell, the chairman of advocacy group Marijuana Majority. The next step that should be taken, he said, is to reschedule cannabis.

“Given what the president and surgeon general have already said publicly about marijuana’s relative harms and medical uses, it’s completely inappropriate for it to remain in a schedule that’s supposed to be reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and no therapeutic value,” he said. “Hopefully today’s action is a sign of more to come.”

Tony C. Dreibus can be reached at [email protected]

5 comments on “Removal of marijuana research barrier could lead to big business benefits down the road
  1. Windy City on

    …you know as well as I do it’s all about the money!

    Make it easy to deposit the funds in banks, allow them the same privileges that other businesses enjoy and the floodgates will open accordingly! That’s just the way it is!…

    Reply
  2. DocInvestments on

    This will be huge for companies focused on safety (erbb)/distribution and medical/health (mjna). Nothing wrong with making money if helping people and increasing freedom for everyone!

    Reply
  3. Lawrence Goodwin on

    Thank you so much for this informative update, Tony Dreibus and Marijuana Business Daily! Please keep up your very noble work. The saddest part of this story is that cannabis plants were cultivated for medical purposes in the United States for nearly a century before the Anti-Marihuana Tyranny came to power, seeking to rip every single plant out by its roots. Where would the science of cannabis be today had cooler heads prevailed among our lawmakers in the 1930s? The delusional and sinister Harry Anslinger and Richard Nixon, the actual creators of our current policy, both still mock all of us from their graves.

    Reply
  4. Nathan Vinson on

    I had a stroke when i was 20 years old, they had to remove a hemangioblastoma and a pheochromacytoma (brain and adrenal gland tumors) among other things. Im tired of going to the doctor and being looked at like an addict cuz i ask for pain pills. I fight with pain everyday and the most they wanna give a perscribe, because the stigma surrounding opiods and overdoses, is ibuprofen, which kills my stomach and does very little or nothing for my pain . I smoke medical marijuana for pain and that helps but they haven’t got any kind of coverage for that so it all comes out my pocket. It bewilders me out how they can prescribe medication that sabotages  my stomach and they’ll cover drugs that you can overdose on, but marijuana is scheduled up there with heroin and cocaine so medical coverage won’t happen. With how many dispensaries that are open, if the switch was made to allow medical insurance to cover marijuana, not only would money be made off the direct act, job will be made and you’d have less people looking for pain relief on the street which causes more overdoses then the doctor prescriptions itself

                                       Nathan Floyd Vinson

    Reply

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