Touting it as the most bipartisan and therefore best-prospect bill in a long time for the issue, Florida’s U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz unveiled a proposal to legalize and promote federal research into medical marijuana Thursday.
Gaetz, the Republican from Fort Walton Beach, was joined by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, the Republican from Kendall, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, the Democrat from Orlando, and several other lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, to announce the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018.
Gaetz, who pushed through Florida’s medical marijuana law in 2014 when he was in the Florida House of Representatives, said the federal bill starts with a bipartisan group of 26 sponsors and co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
“I’m very excited about this legislation. I have a high level of confidence that it will be marked up and passed out of the House Judiciary Committee, which will be historic,” Gaetz said. “Never before in Republican control of the Congress has the Judiciary Committee even taken up cannabis reform.”
Curbelo called it a complicated issue, with a lot of politics, and stigma, but said the matter of research should be simple.
“What we’re all proposing today is that research institutions and the federal government be allowed to discover, to learn about this substance, potential benefits, potential risks,” Curbelo said. “The truth about marijuana, about cannabis should be laid out for everyone to see. And the decisions that we make as a government, and, by the way, that doctors make, should be based on science and fact.”
The bill would provide “safe harbor” status to federal research institutions to conduct research into the medical pros and cons of marijuana and other forms of cannabis. It also would allow private research efforts to start receiving federal grants. The bill also calls for the establishment of more federally-controlled cannabis farms, to increase the amount of research-grade cannabis for researchers to study. Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has one, at the University of Mississippi.
Soto and several other initial backers, including Democratic Republican U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Democratic U.S. Reps. Lou Correa, and Barbara Lee, all of California; and Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, talked about the recognized therapeutic effects for epilepsy, seizures, and other neurological maladies, and the prospects it has to help veterans, as a safer alternative to opioids.
“This has been sinful that we have prevented the type of research that can go into cannabis,” Rohrabacher said.
Previously, Gaetz and Soto co-introduced a bill that would remove marijuana from its status as a “Schedule I” narcotic, which would have cleared it for research and largely decriminalized it on a federal level.
“Since Congress isn’t ready yet to do just that, at the very least we can start official research and protect folks through safe harbors to conduct research,” Soto said.