By Sarah Ferris - 07/13/15 02:50 PM EDT
Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans The Trail 2016: When a pivot isn’t always a pivot Overnight Tech: Facebook's changes worry publishers | First stage of spectrum auction ends | Clinton recruits from Silicon Valley MORE (D-Mass.) wants to make it easier for government-paid researchers to study marijuana – and not just its negative side effects.
Eight Democratic senators, led by Warren, are urging federal health and drug officials to address the “data shortfall” on potential health benefits of medical marijuana by making it easier for researchers to study the drug.
Medical use of marijuana is now legal in 23 states, though it is difficult to study because it remains one of the country’s most tightly controlled substances.
The letter was sent to the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Office of National Drug Control Policy – all of which have control over marijuana-related rules.
While the government does not prohibit research on marijuana, it is classified as a high-risk drug because of its potential for abuse and addiction.
Some medical benefits of “isolated components of the marijuana plant” have been recognized by the Food and Drug Administration. Still, marijuana is considered a “schedule 1 drug” under federal rules – a classification that also includes heroin and ecstasy.
Researchers must go through multiple layers of approval to use the drug. Under current regulations, medical marijuana can only be grown at the University of Mississippi, which partners with the only organization permitted by the government to do so, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Pointing to the growing number of users nationwide, the senators said the government agencies “have both an opportunity and a responsibility” to ensure adequate research.
The senators asked about the timeline for reconsidering marijuana's status as a schedule 1 drug, and about efforts to help other groups besides NIDA acquire permits to grow the drug for research purposes.
The letter comes less than a week after several House lawmakers tried to attach a medical marijuana research amendment to a 350-page drug development bill, 21st Century Cures. The amendment was cosponsored by one of the House’s biggest marijuana foes, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl Blumenauer19 House Democrats' sites hacked at close of gun sit-in Democrats stage sit-in on House floor to push for gun vote Lawmakers push for more marijuana research MORE (D-Ore.), one of its biggest proponents of legalization.
The amendment was not added to the final legislation, which cleared the House on Friday.
Warren first said she supports medical marijuana in fall 2012, shortly after her father died of cancer.
“If there’s something a physician can prescribe that can help someone who’s suffering, I’m in favor of that,” she told Boston’s WTKK-FM. “It should be like any other prescription drug. That there’s careful control over it.”
The letter was also signed by Sens. Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiSenate Appropriations speeds through spending bills Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream If 'bipartisanship' is now a dirty word, how about a rebranding? MORE (D-Md.), Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerDems leery of Planned Parenthood cuts spark Senate scuffle Calif. Dem missed votes, sit-in on trip to Spain Hispanic Caucus PAC looks to flex its muscles in 2016 MORE (D-Calif.), Ron WydenRon WydenOvernight Cybersecurity: DNC hacker Guccifer 2.0 speaks out IRS inversion rules face blowback Senate faces critical vote on Puerto Rico MORE (D-Ore.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyOvernight Energy: Senate panel backs 0M for global climate fund Senate panel approves 0M for international climate fund The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Ore.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDems separated by 29 votes in NY House primary Former Gillibrand aide wins NY House primary Dems celebrate anniversary of gay marriage ruling MORE (D-N.Y.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) – all of whom have introduced or cosponsored previous marijuana legislation.