On December 9, 2020, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3797—The Medical Marijuana Research Act (the “Bill”), expanding access to cannabis for medical research purposes.  In so doing, a bipartisan majority of members of the House of Representatives agreed that, while proponents and opponents of cannabis legalization are entitled to their own opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts.

While jurisdictions throughout the country have legalized various uses for cannabis, the federal government continues to classify the plant as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, making it illegal to produce it or process it at the federal level.  As a result, the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi—which is funded through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (“NIDA”)—is the only federally approved supplier of cannabis for research purposes.

This Bill would change that by, among other things, allowing researchers to access cannabis from state-legal dispensaries.  For the Bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), this is important because, as he explained, “[u]nfortunately, that [federally produced] marijuana is chemically distinct from what is commercially available from state-legal dispensaries such as in my home state of Oregon.”  Indeed, Congressman Walden’s statements are supported by findings that “NIDA Cannabis samples are substantially different from most commercially available drug-type strains, sharing a genetic affinity with hemp samples in most analyses.”[1]

As a result, even unlikely Republican members of Congress have ardently supported the Bill.  For instance, on the House Floor, Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) rose in support of the Bill, saying “[y]ou can be either for medicinal marijuana or against medicinal marijuana, but you can’t make an argument, either way, without the proper research.”  Similarly, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) supported the Bill, saying “I do not believe that the federal government should be standing in the way of medical research for cannabis products.  Cannabis could be a life-saving product.  It may also not be, but . . . we owe it to the patients to do the due diligence, research and testing so that they may make the best medical decisions for themselves.”

In effect, opponents of cannabis legalization—predominantly Republican members of Congress—have made a bet that more research will only reinforce their position.  And, Democratic members of Congress—most of whom support the decriminalization of cannabis at the national level[2]—were happy to take that bet.  Indeed, if proponents of cannabis legalization—like the Bill’s sponsor, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)—are correct regarding the effects of cannabis; namely that the plant is “not highly addictive and has medicinal purposes,”[3] then additional research will only reinforce the legalization position, thereby lending support to future legislative efforts to end the national cannabis prohibition.

While the diametrically opposed positions regarding the federal legal status of cannabis remain—mostly along party lines—proponents and opponents of cannabis legalization, alike, agree that further research of the plant is needed.  Consequently, the Bill passed overwhelmingly by voice vote.  And, as a result, there is hope that the Bill could even pass the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.

On the other hand, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act (the “MORE Act”)—a House Bill to federally decriminalize cannabis, which passed a week prior to this Bill—passed along party lines (228-164) in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.[4]  Consequently, the MORE Act is not likely to pass the U.S. Senate.

Still, the passage of The Medical Marijuana Research Act is a glimmer of hope for those seeking to expand access to legal cannabis.


[1] Schwabe AL, Hansen CJ, Hyslop RM, McGlaughlin ME. Research grade marijuana supplied by the National Institute on Drug Abuse is genetically divergent from commercially available Cannabis, March 28, 2019.

[2] See H.R. 3884 – Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019.

[3] Washington Journal, Interview with Rep. Blumenauer on Marijuana Legalization, April 2, 2019, CSPAN.

[4] Please see here for additional information on the MORE Act.