State-level cannabis legalization continues to live in legal limbo, conflicting with federal law until the federal government finally gets decisive and makes some changes. Despite their sloth, signs of forthcoming change are everywhere, with attempts to ease federal banking laws, promises to turn a blind eye to state-legal cultivation, and a personal nod from the President himself. A frequent excuse for inaction is that we don’t yet know enough about marijuana, medically or commercially, to start changing around a decades-old prohibition.
As the economic experiment thrives on in Colorado, official medical research has remained at a relative standstill thanks to the federal government’s sustained monopoly on federally legal marijuana cultivation in the US. All the research weed is cultivated at a farm in Mississippi, and controlled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). In a recent interview with National Geographic, NIDA director Nora Volkow expressed the need for more research, stating, “Cannabinoids are one of the most fascinating targets we have for the development of medicines. It's an extremely important area of research.” This professed eagerness hasn’t seen much real world implementation until now.
Last week, after months of stalling, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees NIDA, approved a University of Arizona study exploring the benefits of cannabis for symptoms of PTSD.The researchers will procure their research weed from NIDA, an unprecedented move for an agency that has admitted to supporting more research that explores the damaging aspects of cannabis. The decision reached a tipping point when Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies head Rick Doblin threatened HHS with a veterans’ protest.
Considering the highly publicized and scathing number of veterans committing suicide in the US, it’s disconcerting that NIDA, controller of all research pot, would stand against the opinion of countless physicians, relenting only when a public demonstration is imminent. Perhaps that’s what it will take for cannabis to be removed from Schedule 1. In her interview, Volkow ducked support for rescheduling, saying, “That's for another agency to decide. At NIDA, we do the research and provide the evidence that other agencies use to make their policy decisions.”
Until a rescheduling validates the very existence of its medical benefits and leads to more widespread research, the University of Arizona’s small victory will have to suffice. Let’s hope NIDA comes through with that but like they said they would.
Federally sanctioned research or not, more states continue to move on medical cannabis. The House and Senate in both Georgia and Alabama just passed MMJ bills, as others loom in New York, Florida, Maryland, and elsewhere. When even states that had the strongest anti-pot laws begin putting medical well-being before long-held stereotypes, it’s a sign that the law of the land needs to readjust its view and catch up with the times.