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.