The White House today announced its intention to lift a bureaucratic requirement identified as an impediment to scientific research of cannabis.
The move is consistent with calls from a group of bipartisan lawmakers and from recommendations issued in May by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a nonprofit organization focused on responsible marijuana policy and advised by several of the United States’ top addiction-medicine specialists and researchers. (Dr. Christian Thurstone serves on SAM’s science advisory board. You can find SAM’s detailed six-point plan here.)
The bureaucratic rule, known as the Public Health Service review requirement, was established in 1999 after the Institute of Medicine issued a report the previous year calling for more scientific research into the medical value of marijuana and its ingredients.
“The intention was to streamline and increase research, but the general
consensus is that it has had the unintended consequence of stalling research,” SAM wrote. “Since research proposals still have to go through FDA and individual Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocols, many have questioned the wisdom of the PHS process, since it seemingly adds an extra step for no reason. Given that research protocols would still need to go through the FDA and other entities, we endorse eliminating the PHS review process for marijuana research applications.”
With the elimination of what is known as the Public Health Service review requirement, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) will help facilitate marijuana research. Like SAM, the Obama administration and current ONDCP Director Michael Botticelli (commonly known as the “drug czar”) oppose marijuana legalization but support expanded research of the drug (Mr. Botticelli provided much more insight in an interview with SAM Director — and former White House drug policy advisor — Kevin Sabet in May.)
“The Obama Administration has actively supported scientific research on whether marijuana or its components can be safe and effective medicine,” ONDCP spokesman Mario Moreno Zepeda said. “Eliminating the Public Health Service review should help facilitate additional research to advance our understanding of both the adverse effects and potential therapeutic uses for marijuana or its components.”
SAM Director Kevin Sabet issued this statement:
“While we don’t expect the research floodgates to open as a result of this move, since research still must rightfully involve FDA, DEA, and NIH (and institutional review boards), we think this is a step in the right direction toward separating the legalization and medical discussion. For too long, legalization advocates have used medical marijuana as a Trojan Horse for wider objectives; this move hopefully will help us keep medical questions with researchers and away from the political process of ballot referenda. That process has resulted in the electorate voting for “smoked joints for headaches” which is not in line with science.
“SAM continues to support the position of the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and most other major medical groups opposing both legalization and state-based medical marijuana programs, but supporting bona fide research efforts.”