Northwest Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz led a bipartisan group of lawmakers at a press conference on Capitol Hill (Thursday) to unveil the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018.
Rep. Gaetz spent months working on the bill, getting feedback from local constituents and trying to come up with the right combination of provisions that his House colleagues could get behind.
“Today, 25 members of Congress have joined in filing the Medical Cannabis Research Act,” Gaetz said. “This is the cannabis reform legislation that has the greatest chance to pass this Congress.”
Gaetz pointed out that the House Judiciary Committee, in particular, hasn’t taken up cannabis reform since 1978, before he was born. That’s due in part because the federal government still classifies all forms of marijuana as an illegal, schedule 1 drug.
“Cannabis reform has always faced a “catch 22” in congress,” said Gaetz, explaining that they (lawmakers) can’t change the law without having demonstrated research. “But, often times we cannot perform research without changing the law. Our bill ends this log jam, by opening access to cannabis research and pursuing potential cures wherever we may find them.”
The Medical Cannabis Research Act has a number of provisions. One would increase the amount of research grade medical cannabis, requiring at least three producers. Currently, there’s just one.
Also, the bill would create a “safe harbor” for academic and medical institutions that want to engage in medical cannabis research, without risking other federal grants they receive. And, it would allow for a more collaborative environment between researchers and private sector innovators.
“I really commend Mr. Gaetz, because obviously this is a complicated issue, a lot of politics,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from Florida’s 26th District, which includes the Florida Keys.
“What we’re all proposing today is that research institutions and the federal government be allowed to discovery, to learn about this substance, potential benefits, potential risks. The truth about marijuana, about cannabis, should be known and laid out for everyone to see.”
Curbelo believes such research should be the basis for governmental policy and medical decisions – and should have the space to be conducted without interference.
“What we don’t need is a federal government-led witch hunt against those who are following state laws, those who want to conduct research, those who want to inform the public.”
Like Florida, California is one of more than two dozen states that has passed initiatives regulating the use of marijuana, either for medical and/or recreational purposes.
And, like Gaetz, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) says without a change in the law her “hands are tied” when it comes to referrals for her district’s many military veterans seeking medical cannabis through the V-A.
“So, this catch 22 in my state is very prominent and visible, and very sad in many ways,” Lee said. “(Because) our veterans deserve to be able to be treated with the type of health care treatment that they think, and their physicians think, would relieve their pain or relieve their disease or provide for the quality of life that they so deserve.”
Other lawmakers who’ve signed on as co-sponsors of the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018 and spoke at Thursday’s press conference were Lou Correa of California, Darren Soto of Florida and Steve Cohen from Tennessee, all Democrats.
More significantly, Congressman Matt Gaetz courted and won early support and co-sponsorship of his bill from Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
‘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,” said Gaetz. “Never before in Republican control of the Congress has the Judiciary committee even taken up the issue of cannabis reform. And, certainly under Dem and GOP control of congress, we’ve moved far too slowly.”
Gaetz points out that this legislation is strictly focused on research and does not change the legal status of cannabis or interfere with federal, state, or local cannabis laws.