Obama Administration Removes Red Tape From Medical Marijuana Research

June 22nd 2015

Alex Mierjeski

A major federal barrier to private research efforts into medical marijuana was lifted Monday by the Obama Administration. A bureaucratic requirement, known as the the Public Health Service (PHS) review, was deemed redundant and unnecessary by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Until Monday, the PHS review has been a necessary requirement for all privately funded marijuana studies in the U.S. since 1999, but it has recently been the subject of bipartisan opposition from Congress members, researchers, andmarijuana law reform opponents. In their notice this week, the DHHS called the extra review "no longer necessary to support the conduct of scientifically sound studies into the potential therapeutic uses of marijuana."

Under the review (which according the Huffington Post was implemented following a 1998 Institute of Medicine report called for more research into pot's medical value) non-federally-funded research had to be vetted by multiple agencies in a time-consuming, redundant multi-step process. As the Washington Post explains, anyone wanting to study the drug had to submit a proposal to the FDA for review of "scientific validity and ethical soundness," send a second proposal to the PHS review board (which would conduct the same review as FDA), obtain a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration, and finally get some marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which supplies all medical marijuana used for research in the U.S.

It was an exhaustive process that reform advocates say was long overdue. "The president has often said that drug policy should be dictated by unimpeded science instead of ideology, and it's great to see the Obama administration finally starting to take some real action to back that up," Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority told ATTN: in an email.

Along with lawmakers and advocates, the Office of National Drug Control Policy said that eliminating the PHS review would help facilitate useful research into the drug's potentials. "The Obama Administration has actively supported scientific research on whether marijuana or its components can be safe and effective medicine. Eliminating the [PHS] review should help facilitate additional research to advance our understanding of both the adverse effects and potential therapeutic uses for marijuana or its components," ONDCP spokesman Mario Moreno Zepeda told the Huffington Post.

The elimination of PHS review removes unnecessary steps -- like sending the same request to two different places to be approved -- which researchers and advocates say is a step not required to research any other drug. But hurdles remain for researchers. For example, NIDA has a monopoly on providing all marijuana for research purposes, something that doesn't exist for drugs like cocaine or heroin.

Still, advocates were hopeful that the move signaled impending reforms from the Obama Administration to further release marijuana from the Schedule I category, which classifies it along with heroin and other drugs with no medical potential.

"The next step should be moving marijuana out of Schedule I to a more appropriate category, which the administration can do without any further Congressional action," Angell told ATTN:.

"Given what the president and surgeon general have already said publicly about marijuana's relative harms and medical uses, it's completely inappropriate for it to remain in a schedule that's supposed to be reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and no therapeutic value," he continued."Hopefully today's action is a sign of more to come."