On Sept. 13, 2017, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced legislation to cut the bureaucratic red tape thwarting medical cannabis research so health care professionals can harness the medicinal properties of the plant to reduce the suffering of patients in need.
Following Hatch’s introduction of the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017, or MEDS Act, the 83-year-old senator took to the Senate floor to convince his colleagues that medical cannabis research is the key to finding relief for Americans suffering across the country.
“While I certainly do not support the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, the evidence shows that cannabis possesses medicinal properties that can truly change people’s lives for the better,” Hatch said. “Under current law, those who want to complete research on the benefits of medical marijuana must engage in a complex application process and interact with several federal agencies. These regulatory acrobatics can take researchers over a year, if not more, to complete. And the longer researchers have to wait, the longer patients have to suffer.”
According to a press release from Hatch’s office, the MEDS Act specifically aims to do the following:
- “Encourage more research on the potential medical uses of marijuana by streamlining the research registration process, without imposing a scheduling determination on the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
- “Make marijuana more available for legitimate scientific and medical research and the commercial production of any FDA-approved drugs derived from marijuana.
- “Retain important checks to protect against diversion or abuse of the controlled marijuana substances.
- “Require the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to develop and publish recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing marijuana for research.
- “Require the Attorney General to increase the national marijuana quota in a timely manner to meet the changing medical, scientific, and industrial needs for marijuana.
- “Codify the administration’s decision to terminate the Public Health Service and its review of proposals for medical research on marijuana.Prevent the Department of Health and Human Services from instituting any other marijuana-specific protocol reviews, other than the voluntary review that a researcher can request from National Institutes of Health (NIH) in order to access the expedited DEA registration process.”
Hatch has particular interest in medical cannabis research because Utah has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, having the seventh-highest rate of opioid overdose fatalities per capita in the United States in 2016. With a majority of Utahns supporting medical marijuana legalization, the state is ready for chronic pain patients to have better options.
“In Utah and across the nation, opioid abuse continues to ravage good, hardworking families who have fallen captive to the tyranny of addiction. While some people are using these prescription drugs appropriately, others are abusing them at alarming rates,” Hatch explained. “Because Utahns have watched their family members, friends, and neighbors grapple with this epidemic, many are seeking non-narcotic alternatives that can help with pain. Medical marijuana is just one such alternative. And after careful, deliberative thought, I’ve concluded that it’s an alternative worth pursuing.”
In wrapping up his remarks, Hatch conveyed the fraught nature of medical cannabis research, but reminded his colleagues of their responsibility to serve the American people.
“I understand that medical marijuana is a difficult issue. I understand that it’s not an issue without controversy,” Hatch said. “But we cannot shrink from our duties simply because they require us to make hard choices. At present, we have a duty to help the thousands of Americans suffering form debilitating seizures and chronic pain who desperately want help.”
In addition to Hatch, the MEDS Act is co-sponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Chris Coons, D-Del.; Cory Gardner, R-Colo.; and Thom Tillis, R-NC.