Nearly two years after the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it would license additional producers of research cannabis, the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would require Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop obstructing the DEA's review of 26 applications from potential marijuana manufacturers.
The Medical Cannabis Research Act, introduced in April by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R–Fla.), would require the Department of Justice to federally license at least two additional manufacturers of research cannabis. Since University of Mississippi pharmacologist Mahmoud ElSohly currently possesses one such license, the bill calls for at least three concurrent licenses. "This legislation creates a safe harbor for universities and medical institutions to engage in research," Gaetz said during Thursday's hearing.
Although the bill was introduced by a Republican and had the support of conservative committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R–Va.), several Democrats on the committee voted against it because of language barring license holders from employing anyone convicted of felony or misdemeanor drug charges. The bill requires manufacturers to "have completed a criminal background check for all personnel involved in the operations of the manufacturer pursuant to this subsection to confirm that such personnel have no conviction for a felony or drug-related misdemeanor."
"Any restriction on misdemeanors goes in the exact contrary direction of the Second Chance Act, which we'll be taking up later this morning," Rep. Jerry Nadler (D–N.Y.) said during the hearing. If the concern is that people convicted of drug offenses will divert research marijuana to the black market, he added, "there's no shortage of marijuana in this country. It's absurd." Rep. Steve Cohen (D–Tenn.) and several other Democratic members of the committee joined Nadler in objecting to the misdemeanor provision.
Gaetz offered to revisit the hiring restrictions once the bill makes it to the House floor. But he added that the requirement was proposed by members of the cannabis industry, who feel such a restriction will help legitimize their work and ensure the "integrity" of their research.
"Let's be real," Nadler responded. "The 'integrity' of the research will be determined by peer review, not who grows some of the materials for use in the research."
The bill passed the committee by a voice vote despite these objections.
The bill gives the attorney general a full year to review applications, after which he may delay a decision by requesting supplementary information from applicants.
"The federal government should not stand in the way of collaboration that can help people live better lives," Gaetz told Marijuana Moment's Tom Angell.
Should this bill go to the House floor, survive the amendment process, be passed by the Senate, and signed by Trump, it won't necessarily end Sessions' obstruction of cannabis research. But it's a good start from a group of Republican and Democratic House members who want Sessions to get the hell out of the way.