U.S. congressional committee approves cannabis bill, but not without drama

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The Medical Cannabis Research Act will now move to the House, where it will be voted upon.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018 on Thursday despite objections that the measure unfairly discriminates against those with criminal records.

If passed, House Resolution 5634 would require the attorney general to ensure that an adequate and uninterrupted supply of research-grade cannabis is available. The act also provides safe harbor protections for institutions participating in cannabis research. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, the sponsor of the legislation, said in a release that he was pleased with the committee’s approval of the bill.

“I am glad that the Judiciary Committee has reported the Medical Cannabis Research Act favorably, sending it to the House for a vote,” Gaetz said. “For too long, Congress has faced a dilemma with cannabis-related legislation: we cannot reform cannabis law without researching its safety, its efficacy, and its medical uses — but we cannot perform this critical research without first reforming cannabis law. The Medical Cannabis Research Act helps break that logjam, allowing researchers to study medical cannabis without fear of legal jeopardy.”

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who has opposed marijuana reform legislation in the past, said that more study into the medicinal uses of the plant is warranted.

“While there are many varying opinions on the issue of marijuana, one thing we all can agree on is that we need qualified researchers to study the science to determine if there are any potential medicinal benefits to chemicals derived from cannabis,” Goodlatte said.

Controversy Over Criminal Records

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Before the committee vote, some members attempted to remove provisions of the bill that would deny anyone with a conviction for a felony or drug-related misdemeanor from employment by companies cultivating cannabis for research.

Ranking Democrat Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York said before the committee voted that the bill as drafted “unfortunately and unjustly expands the collateral consequences of criminal convictions,” and would “compound this injustice by preventing the very people who have been harmed from participating,” according to Forbes.

In a letter sent to committee leadership on Wednesday, groups including the Drug Policy Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and Americans for Safe Access wrote that the employment restriction did not serve the public interest.

“There is no legitimate health or public safety justification for the inclusion of this language and we urge you to strike this unnecessary, punitive ban on individuals with previous drug law violations,” the letter states. “To help lower recidivism rates and improve public safety, we should be making it easier for people with records to obtain jobs, not more difficult.”

However, Goodlatte argued that it is “wholly appropriate that we set a firm standard for those who are supposed to be growing and manufacturing research-grade marijuana.” After debate, the provision was left in the bill, with Democrats expressing hope it could be removed with an amendment when the measure reaches the House floor.

Gaetz said approval by the committee is a step toward more fully realizing the medicinal potential of cannabis. “This vote will help unlock American innovation and discovery, and help researchers bring the cures of the future a little closer to reality,” Gaetz said.

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