Marijuana plants are cultivated. UPI/Gary C. Caskey | License Photo
WASHINGTON, June 17 (UPI) -- Thirty members of Congress signed and sent a letter to Sylvia Matthews Burwell, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday asking the agency to ease the process of obtaining marijuana for research purposes.
"We write to express our support for increasing scientific research on the therapeutic risks and benefits of marijuana. We ask that you take measures to ensure that any non-National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded researcher who has acquired necessary Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Institutional Review Board (IRB), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and appropriate state and local authority approval be able to access marijuana for research at-cost without further review," the letter to Burwell reads.
The letter notes that twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, that more than one million Americans currently use the plant at their doctor's instruction, and cites "overwhelming anecdotal evidence" of the plant's benefits in treating numerous conditions and widespread use as reason for more research, "Yet, the scientific research clearly documenting these benefits has often been hampered by federal barriers."
Last week the Drug Policy Alliance and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies released a report accusing the Drug Enforcement Administration of engaging in a systemized campaign over the last four decades to both impede scientific research into medical marijuana and reject scientific evidence for the medical benefits of the plant.
The report criticized the agency for creating a "regulatory Catch-22."
"The DEA has argued for decades that there is insufficient evidence to support rescheduling marijuana or the medical use of marijuana. At the same time, it has – along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse – acted in a manner intended to systematically impede scientific research," the report reads.
The report goes on to accuse the DEA of obstructing efforts to have marijuana rescheduled and reclassified as a drug so as to be more easily researchable and recommends that the agency should no longer be responsible for regulating the drug, that instead an agency concerned with healthcare should oversee it.
"The DEA has obstructed research into the medical use of marijuana for over 40 years and in the process has caused immeasurable suffering that would otherwise have been treated by low-cost, low-risk generic marijuana," said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. "The DEA's obstruction of the FDA approval process for marijuana has -- to the DEA's dismay -- unintentionally catalyzed state-level medical marijuana reforms."
"The DEA is a police and propaganda agency. It makes no sense for it to be in charge of federal decisions involving scientific research and medical practice," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We believe this authority would be better handled by another government agency in the health realm, or even better still, by an organization that is truly independent, perhaps something that involves the National Academy of Sciences."
We will be working to encourage greater congressional oversight and also to call for reforms of federal law," he added, portending today's letter from Congress to HHS.
"We request that you review and revise the HHS Guidance to eliminate what we believe to be an unnecessary additional review process. NIDA should provide marijuana at-cost to all non-NIH funded marijuana research protocols that have successfully obtained necessary FDA, DEA, IRB and appropriate state and local authority approval," reads the penultimate paragraph of the letter, reposted here by the Huffington Post.
"Considering the number of states with medical marijuana laws and the number of patients who use marijuana medicinally in the United States, it is clear that we need more scientific information about the therapeutic risks and benefits of marijuana," Congress' letter concludes.