Legislation tripling the number of facilities allowed to grow medical marijuana for federally approved research cleared a key hurdle Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The House Judiciary Committee passed the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018, advancing a bill that would increase the number of government-approved marijuana growers from one to three, effectively ending a monopoly held by the University of Mississippi for the last several decades.
The bill was introduced in April by Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, and subsequently garnered the support of 40 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle prior to passing by a voice vote.
“We must ensure that an adequate and uninterrupted supply of research-grade cannabis is available to safe harbor provisions for research facilities. I am proud to lead the efforts to unlock cures through important scientific research,” Mr. Gaetz tweeted Thursday.
“While there are many varying opinions on the issue of marijuana, one thing we all can agree on is that we need qualified researchers to study the science to determine if there are any potential medicinal benefits to chemicals derived from cannabis,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, echoed in a statement applauding the bill’s passage.
The vote marks only the second time in history that a congressional panel has approved standalone marijuana reform legislation, Forbes reported.
If approved in the House and signed into law, the bill would require the attorney general to authorize at least two new applicants “to manufacture cannabis for legitimate research purposes,” followed by three additional applicants each subsequent year.
Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and since the 1970s the government has licensed only a single facility — the University of Mississippi — to harvest research-grade weed for the purposes of conducting scientific studies.
The Obama administration announced plans in 2016 to let additional facilities grow marijuana for federal research, but the Department of Justice under President Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has refrained from issuing a single new license in the years since.
Last month, meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement Agency proposed increasing the amount of research-grade marijuana that can be grown by more than 400 percent, signaling likely either a strain on Ole Miss or a need to license further facilities.
Thirty-one states have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana, including nine where adults are allowed to use the plant for recreational purposes, despite federal prohibition.