Ever since President Donald Trump said earlier this year that he would “probably” put his signature on a piece of legislation designed to give states the freedom to handle legal marijuana without federal interference, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has stopped slinging his anti-pot swill every time he is asked about it by the media. He has spent close to two years pushing Trump’s agenda at the Justice Department, but it almost seems that the president’s twinge of support for legal weed has put the attorney general up in arms with respect to potential enforcement policies.
We no longer hear any mention of a federal marijuana crackdown, and all of the commotion surrounding the White House’s alleged campaign aimed at reversing public opinion on marijuana doesn’t seem to have much, if anything, to do with direct orders from the Justice Department. To those on the outside looking in, it might even seem that Sessions has thrown his hands up on the issue and declared defeat. But this is just an illusion. In all actuality, the attorney general has continued to wage his war against marijuana in a way that stands to set the movement back significantly.
It was just two years ago that the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it would begin accepting applications for additional cannabis growers to cultivate federal marijuana for research purposes. For the past few decades, the DEA has relied solely on the University of Mississippi to fulfill its annual pot quota, which has caused issues with supply and overall quality. But the addition of more cannabis growers aimed to change the system for the better.
Unfortunately, since Sessions took over the reins at the Justice Department, none of the more than two dozen applicants have been approved for a license. In fact, those requests are simply being ignored, according to a recent article from the Wall Street Journal.
But there is a wealth of potential in that stack of applications. The Journal’s report indicates that one of the candidates is a former Navy SEAL interested in learning more about how medical marijuana might be able to assist veterans in controlling issues such as chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Others include entrepreneurs and a professor from a university.
As it stands, the limitations of the current program have prevented marijuana from being researched properly for its therapeutic benefits.
Congress, Without Sessions, Can Allow for Cannabis Research
So far, the Justice Department has refused to explain why it has continued to sandbag the approval process for this program upgrade. This silence has prompted some bipartisan rage at the Congressional level. Some lawmakers believe that Sessions is jamming up the application process simply because he hates weed and has no faith in the medicinal value of the cannabis plant. But they are still applying pressure.
Last week, Senators Kamala Harris of California and Orrin Hatch of Utah fired off their third correspondence to Sessions, saying, “It is imperative that our nation’s brightest scientists have access to diverse types of federally-approved, research-grade marijuana to research both its adverse and therapeutic effects.”
Interestingly, Sessions told a congressional committee in April that “there may well be some benefits to medical marijuana, and it’s perfectly appropriate to study it.” We’re guessing the attorney general meant: as long as that research doesn’t happen on his watch.
But the thing is that Attorney General Sessions, no matter how much of an imbecile he might be, should not be held responsible for the state of affairs with respect to medical marijuana research. That is a job for Congress. It has the power to change the law, but the issue, no matter how minute, struggles to get the support needed to make any real change.
There is presently a bill (Medical Cannabis Research Act) set to go before a U.S. House committee that has some of the largest bipartisan support of any marijuana-related measure introduced at the federal level. The bill would essentially open up additional cannabis research opportunities without leaning on the Justice Department.
If passed, Congress would then be responsible for putting more cannabis cultivation operations on the books, which is how it should be. Otherwise, the policy stands a chance at shifting once again, perhaps even for the worse, with the coming of future administrations.
Still, it remains to be seen whether the bill will be given a fair shot. The marijuana debate hasn’t exactly evolved on Capitol Hill in the same way it has done across the rest of the country. Many lawmakers are still apprehensive to get behind anything marked for pushing the nation into legal waters.
But just because the U.S. government has failed to embrace and lead the call to explore marijuana for its therapeutic application doesn’t mean it is destined to be nonexistent. Researchers from all over the world may simply head to Canada to study the potential benefits of marijuana.
The nation is set to launch a fully legal, nationwide pot market in a matter of weeks, which could remove “the shackles of scientific inquiry,” says M-J Milloy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and the University of British Columbia.
Some believe that Canada’s push to completely eliminate prohibition may put the fate of medical marijuana mostly in their hands.
“Will Canada be a world leader in cannabis research, I certainly hope so,” Milloy told The Scientist Magazine. “But I also hope that colleagues outside Canada, in the U.S., England, in France and Uruguay are involved, too. Us Canadians, we want to lead the way, but we don’t want to be alone.”
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