Congress is very rarely a source of entertainment. That is by no means a controversial statement for anyone who’s ever been in the public gallery or accidentally discovered that a live-feed channel known as CSPAN exists. But every once in a while, a lawmaker makes a joke, and on an even rarer occasion, it lands.
In early September, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah introduced the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017, or MEDS Act, which would expand the availability of marijuana for research purposes. It’s a piece of legislation that’s badly needed in the medical and scientific communities, and Hatch’s authorship of it is a step forward for getting both sides of the aisle to agree on this issue.
But while it’s noteworthy that a pro-marijuana bill is being proposed by a Mormon Republican, it’s Hatch’s announcement of the bill that is gaining attention in this case. Upon closer reading, it’s clear that there is something really clever about the senator’s choice of words.
“It’s high time to address research into medical marijuana. Our country has experimented with a variety of state solutions without properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, administration, and quality of medical marijuana. All the while, the federal government strains to enforce regulations that sometimes do more harm than good. To be blunt, we need to remove the administrative barriers preventing legitimate research into medical marijuana, which is why I’ve decided to roll out the MEDS Act.”
That’s right; the 83-year-old lawmaker snuck a ton of weed-related puns into his introduction of an incredibly important piece of legislation.
Even though certain states have legalized recreational use, while several others have approved its medical use, it is still considered illegal at a federal level. Its classification as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act, places it at a higher classification than opiates and considers cannabis to have no medicinal qualities.
The Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) refusal to reclassify cannabis has made it difficult to access for research purposes. In addition to its strict classification, the DEA also determines the amount of cannabis that will be made available for study annually. Hatch’s bill would ease those restrictions.
Under current regulations, Marijuana used for research can only be grown at the University of Mississippi under the supervision of the anti-drug organization the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That program has existed for the past 40 years.
The result has been a shortage of supply for researchers hoping to study the medicinal benefits of cannabis which has been the subject of frustration in the scientific community for years.
Hatch has received bi-partisan support for his bill, having co-written it with Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI).
Hatch’s statement to the Senate was far more formal and took a tone that is not often heard by opponents of recreational cannabis. Hatch introduced his bill by insisting that he was still opposed to opening up a recreational market, but when it comes to research, he said, “I worry…that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits.”