Connor Hellings, left and science director John Rudd, right, work on marijuana samples at CannTest, the first commercial marijuana testing laboratory to open in Alaska on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016, in Anchorage, Alaska. ( Dan Joling, Associated Press file)

Congressman proposes budget amendment to protect marijuana research from DOJ

A Republican congressman has proposed an appropriations amendment to provide safe harbor for medical cannabis research in the majority of U.S. states.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a freshman lawmaker representing the western panhandle of Florida, this week sponsored an amendment to the upcoming Consolidated Appropriations Act that, if included and passed, would provide protections for researchers of Schedule I substances in states that have legalized some form of medical cannabis.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida (Steve Cannon, Associated Press File)

“No one should be afraid to do research on medical cannabis,” Gaetz said Thursday in an interview with The Cannabist.

Gaetz’s federal budget amendment, similar in approach to the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer (formerly Rohrabacher-Farr) amendment to shield medical marijuana states from federal prosecution, would handcuff the Department of Justice from using its resources to block applications to study marijuana for medicinal purposes:

None of the funds made available under this Act to the Department of Justice may be used to prevent or delay the approval of an application, which complies with all applicable requirements, submitted to the Attorney General to possess, distribute, or manufacture a schedule I controlled substance, including marihuana, for the purposes of conducting research, for a substance that is legal for medicinal use pursuant to State law in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming, and pursuant to the laws of the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico.

“I’m trying to find some common ground on an issue that seems to draw recalcitrant opposition,” he said.

Gaetz’s amendment comes on the heels of the Justice Department reportedly stymieing efforts that would have expanded the number of entities who could grow marijuana for research purposes.

“I don’t think anybody’s waving pompoms for cannabis research over at Justice,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz, who backed medical marijuana measures while in the Florida Legislature, has quickly become a vocal supporter of medical cannabis initiatives on Capitol Hill. In April, he and Rep. Darren Soto, D-Florida, introduced legislation that would transfer marijuana to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act — putting it in similar standing to Tylenol with codeine and facilitating research on the benefits and risks of cannabis use.

Gaetz said his latest move is meant to open doors for researchers who want to study cannabis for medicinal uses but fear federal repercussion.

“Today’s universities are concerned that cannabis research would impair hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants they receive,” he said. “So I figure, if people are legally using cannabis under state law, and over half the states of the country (have medical cannabis laws), maybe we shouldn’t scare people out of researching outcomes.”

To be considered for the Consolidated Appropriations Act, Gaetz’s amendment would first have to make it out of the House Committee on Rules. The amendment is expected to go before the Rules Committee next week, he said.

Read the budget amendment to protect medical marijuana research