Marijuana foes agree: Pot research is needed

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An unlikely pair of lawmakers is seeking to promote government research of marijuana.

Reps. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerDemocrats stage sit-in on House floor to push for gun vote Lawmakers push for more marijuana research House votes to condemn carbon tax MORE (D-Ore.) — who stand on opposite sides of the legalization debate — are co-sponsoring an amendment that would help scientists study medical marijuana.

“Our amendment shows members of Congress with widely varying views on marijuana policy are united in support of building a robust body of scientific information on medical marijuana," said Blumenauer, whose state recently legalized recreational use of the drug.

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Harris, who took a high-profile stance against D.C.’s legalization law last fall, said he wants to spur research to determine whether marijuana has medicinal benefits, “and if so, what is the best way to gain those benefits.”

The amendment will be debated as part of the bipartisan medical cures legislation, the 21st Century Cures Act, which is slated for a vote this week. It was also supported by Reps. Morgan GriffithMorgan GriffithOvernight Regulation: Supreme Court rejects GOP redistricting challenge Supreme Court rejects GOP challenge to Va. redistricting plan Time runs short on House GOP bill tackling mental health, mass shootings MORE (R-Va.) and Sam FarrSam FarrDems push for allowing base closures Dems consider more FDA funding to end ban on gay blood donors Dems want oversight after 4 arrested for Honduran activist’s murder MORE (D-Calif.).

The partnership between Harris and Blumenauer, who are both among the most outspoken advocates for their respective camps, is unexpected.

Harris, who once said "even medical marijuana legalization increases drug use," has given no previous indication that the drug could have benefits. Blumenauer, who has called for the end of federal marijuana bans, once blasted Harris for treating the city of D.C. “like a plantation.”

Their amendment would remove roadblocks for agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Drug Enforcement Administration to study the effects of medical marijuana.

While the government does not prohibit research on marijuana, it is classified as a high-risk drug, requiring scientists to register with the DEA.

Under federal rules, marijuana is considered a “schedule 1 drug,” a classification that also includes heroin and ecstasy. The label says that the drug has “high potential for abuse” and "no currently accepted medical use,” though some medical benefits of “isolated components of the marijuana plant” have been recognized by the Food and Drug Administration.

The amendment would create a new subcategory under “schedule 1,” which the lawmakers say will “make research easier to conduct.”

The proposed change is already drawing praise from activists like the Marijuana Majority. 

"It's great to see that even the most ardent opponents of legalization are finally admitting that it's wrong for the federal government to block research on marijuana's medical benefits," Tom Angell, the group's founder, wrote in an email.

Marijuana remains difficult to research, resulting in a lack of data that has been lamented by both advocates and opponents of legalization.