After years of empty promises, lawmakers in Washington DC finally pushed a meaningful marijuana reform bill across the finish line. The bill, known as the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion (MMCRE) Act, was signed by the president in early December 2022.
The new law removes most of the barriers that have stood in the way of legitimate medical marijuana research for the last 50 years. Moreover, it encourages the FDA to get involved in growing and dispensing medical cannabis. Some say the law is a precursor to rescheduling marijuana so that it could be utilized as a prescription drug.
Already Legal in 38 States
Medical cannabis is already legal in 38 states. Utah is one of them. In the Beehive State, any adult with a qualifying condition can apply for a medical cannabis card. Approval gives a patient the legal right to buy medical cannabis at any one of more than a dozen state-licensed medical cannabis pharmacies.
Deseret Wellness is one such pharmacy located in Provo. They have a second location in Park City. Will they be affected by the new federal law? Not directly. Eventually, they should be affected indirectly. How? By having access to medical cannabis products developed as a direct result of research made possible by the MMCRE.
Deseret Wellness operators say that opening the doors to more research has been a long time coming. They also say that eliminating federal red tape should encourage more of the studies the medical community needs to determine medical cannabis efficacy once and for all.
Preventing Robust Research
For the last 50 years, Washington has been preventing robust medical cannabis research by limiting access to plant material and requiring researchers to undergo a convoluted approval process. It has been so difficult to get approval and obtain plant material that researchers haven’t bothered.
With the new law in place, researchers will have nearly universal access to cannabis plant material for research purposes. The application process has also been streamlined for efficiency and speed. Finally, encouraging the FDA to get directly involved should speed up the approval process when pharmaceutical companies are ready to bring new cannabis medications to market.
A Mixed Bag for Consumers
On the consumer side of things, the MMCRE appears to be a mixed bag. Its passage and signing are good news to current medical cannabis patients and any future patients who might be prescribed medical marijuana. More research promises to deliver more effective medications targeting specific conditions.
On the other hand, the bill is a bit of bad news for recreational cannabis advocates in the sense that they did not get the decriminalization bill for which they were hoping. Not only that, but passage of the bill also signifies a willingness among DC lawmakers to green-light medical cannabis without crossing the line into recreational use.
Future Prospects for Decriminalization
It is still possible that Congress could decriminalize marijuana by the end of the year. At the time of this writing (December 2022), they still had a couple of weeks before the Christmas break. However, the outlook isn’t that great. The chances of getting a decriminalization bill done this year are pretty slim.
What about next year? Prospects for 2023 are not looking that much better with the GOP reclaiming the House and the Democrat majority in the Senate being just two seats. The House is unlikely to attach a decriminalization amendment to an appropriations bill, so anything else they could send to the Senate would likely be filibustered.
For now, the MMCRE has to be enough to satisfy cannabis legalization advocates. It’s the best DC lawmakers could do under the current circumstances.