Har­ris helps med pot re­search push

Con­gress­man says stance against recre­ational use re­mains


Spe­cial from the Star Demo­crat

— U.S. Rep. Andy Har­ris (R-1st District) is part of a group of bi­par­ti­san con­gres­sional lead­ers who want to loosen the fed­eral bar­ri­ers to med­i­cal mar­i­juana re­search.

Har­ris, a physi­cian who has also con­ducted Na­tional In­sti­tute of Health­spon­sored r es­ear c h , and sev­eral other fed­eral law­mak­ers plan to in­tro­duce bills in both houses of Congress.

Ac­cord­ing to Har­ris’ of­fice, the House ver­sion of the bill would ad­dress two ma­jor bar­ri­ers faced by those who want to con­duct le­git­i­mate med­i­cal mar­i­juana re­search. It al­lows for the pri­vate man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion of mar­i­juana solely for re­search pur­poses, in or­der for the re­searchers to get the pot


they need for their stud­ies. It also aims to re­duce ap­proval wait times for stud­ies.

Har­ris was crit­i­cized by mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion ad­vo­cates in late 2014 and early 2015 when he suc­cess­fully in­cluded a mea­sure in a fed­eral spend­ing bill that ef­fec­tively blocked the District of Columbia from le­gal­iz­ing up to 2 ounces of mar­i­juana — some­thing ap­proved by D.C. vot­ers through a bal­lot mea­sure. Har­ris’ mea­sure, how­ever, did not im­pact med­i­cal mar­i­juana in D.C.

“Our drug pol­icy was never in­tended to act as an im­ped­i­ment to con­duct­ing le­git­i­mate med­i­cal re­search,” Har­ris said in a state­ment re­leased Mon­day. “We need

em­pir­i­cal sci­en­tific ev­i­dence to clearly de­ter­mine whether mar­i­juana has medic­i­nal ben­e­fits and, if so, how it would be used most ef­fec­tively.”

The pro­posal comes af­ter 25 states, in­clud­ing Mary­land, have ap­proved med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­vi­sions.

The U.S. Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion is cur­rently con­sid­er­ing reschedul­ing mar­i­juana. It is cur­rently a Sched­ule I drug, mean­ing the agency does not con­sider it to have any med­i­cal ben­e­fits, and con­sid­ers it to have a high po­ten­tial for abuse. Mar­i­juana shares the same sched­ule clas­si­fi­ca­tion as heroin, LSD, ec­stasy and pey­ote.

Har­ris said his is­sue with mar­i­juana has al­ways been routed in recre­ational use. As for us­ing mar­i­juana for medic­i­nal pur­poses, Har­ris

said the ques­tion is still out there on what spe­cific ill­nesses — be­yond a hand­ful of known ben­e­fits to those who suf­fer with ill­nesses in­clud­ing can­cer and glau­coma — it could help treat.

He said that, to date, a lot of talk over which dis­eases mar­i­juana is said to have ben­e­fi­cial im­pacts on has been anec­do­tal, hy­po­thet­i­cal or ex­ag­ger­ated — that the bonafide med­i­cal ev­i­dence mostly is just not there.

“This in no way changes my opin­ion at all of le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational mar­i­juana,” Har­ris said. “And I think that we owe it to pa­tients who have ill­nesses ... the med­i­cal re­search that would show whether or not mar­i­juana is just a false prom­ise or whether it ac­tu­ally has the ef­fi­cacy to treat their med­i­cal dis­eases.”

He said it’s es­pe­cially

im­por­tant to find what dis­eases mar­i­juana could specif­i­cally help treat, if any, con­sid­er­ing all the states that are mov­ing to­ward le­gal­iz­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana, so any pol­icy de­ci­sions are based on sound re­search.

“Be­fore we go and we greatly ex­pand the avail­abil­ity of med­i­cal mar­i­juana, we prob­a­bly ought to do the re­search into ex­actly which dis­eases is (mar­i­juana) the pre­ferred treat­ment, or use­ful treat­ment,” he said.

The bill wouldn’t re­quire the DEA to resched­ule mar­i­juana, but changes the rules for do­ing re­search on the Sched­ule I drug. If it is found through re­search that mar­i­juana is use­ful for cer­tain con­di­tions, then the House ver­sion of the bill al­lows for pri­vate drug com­pa­nies to pro­duce it, just like any other treat­ment, Har­ris said.

The bill is also be­ing spon­sored by Ore­gon Demo­crat U.S. Rep. Earl Blu­me­nauer, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can U.S. Rep. H. Mor­gan Grif­fith and Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat U.S. Rep. Sam Farr. They plan to in­tro­duce the bill into Congress this week, ac­cord­ing to a Mon­day re­lease.

“De­spite the fact that over 200 mil­lion Amer­i­cans now

have le­gal ac­cess to some form of med­i­cal mar­i­juana, fed­eral pol­icy is block­ing sci­ence. It’s out­ra­geous,” Blu­me­nauer said. “We owe it to pa­tients and their fam­i­lies to al­low for the re­search physi­cians need to un­der­stand mar­i­juana’s ben­e­fits and risks and de­ter­mine proper use and dosage.”


Econ­o­mist Anir­ban Basu dis­cusses the econ­omy with mem­bers and guests of the Susque­hanna Work­force Net­work on Fri­day.


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