This News About Marijuana Research Could Change The Way We Understand Weed

Officials announced Wednesday that the Obama administration is planning to eliminate certain barriers to marijuana research as part of a policy that would potentially catalyze more studies of the drug's medical functions. The government is expected to launch this new policy on Thursday in order to enable more research into marijuana, but it has declined to change marijuana's classification from its current status as a dangerous substance with no medical use.

That being said, this new policy is proof that the Obama administration is continuing to relax the nation's policy on marijuana, with President Obama arguing that it is not more dangerous than alcohol. Because of this policy, researchers from more universities are expected to have access to marijuana in order to study its medical uses and effectiveness. Three government officials told The New York Times that the Drug Enforcement Administration would allow more research institutions to apply to grow marijuana for this reason.

So far, 25 states have authorized the medical use of marijuana as a treatment for a number of conditions, including Alzheimer's and Crohn's disease, and four states have legalized the recreational use of the drug. But there is very limited research currently available to address the effectiveness of using marijuana for medical purposes, and this new policy could help change that.

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John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, discussed the new policy with The New York Times and explained why it's so important. “It will create a supply of research-grade marijuana that is diverse, but more importantly, it will be competitive and you will have growers motivated to meet the demand of researchers,” Hudak said.

Hudak makes an important point. The University of Mississippi has for years had a monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes, and as of April it had 185 batches of the drug. While the new policy still requires research institutions to have permits from the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration if they want to study marijuana's medical uses, it does not limit the number of universities that could qualify.

While many researchers and drug policy advocates think that this new policy would eliminate a significant hurdle in marijuana research, some do not think it is adequate, especially as far as marijuana's classification as a Schedule I drug goes. Earl Blumenauer, a Democratic Representative from Oregon, said in a statement that while the new policy has the potential to eliminate monopolies on the drug, "this decision doesn’t go far enough and is further evidence that the DEA doesn’t get it. Keeping marijuana at Schedule I continues an outdated, failed approach — leaving patients and marijuana businesses trapped between state and federal laws.”

Hopefully, this new policy is just a first step, and not the end of the road. At the very least, it is expected to enable much more research on the subject of marijuana, and could help drug policy advocates shape their future calls to action.