White House Lifts Restriction on Medical Marijuana

Marijuana will now be slightly easier to study, due to lifting of a restriction on such research by the White House. Mike Hutchings / REUTERS

The federal government has lifted a key restriction on medical marijuana that, to date, had made the substance difficult to research. A broad coalition of politicians supported the move, first proposed in a letter from bipartisan members of Congress to the secretary of health and human services in May of last year.

Before now, any proposals for research on marijuana had to go through what's called a Public Health Service review, which delayed and sometimes prevented the projects from ever coming to fruition due to the burdensome bureaucratic wrangling it involved. But in a notice published Tuesday, the White House has eliminated this step.

"The White House is right to lift a major barrier to conducting essential medical marijuana research," said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, in a statement. "The onerous requirement took too long and cost too much to complete, discouraging research that would have furthered our understanding of medical marijuana and its potential treatment of illness and disease."

Medical marijuana advocates still argue that more needs to be done. For example, they say, the government should allow more than one organization to produce marijuana for research; currently, only the National Institute on Drug Abuse can do so, making it a monopoly. This drives up costs and limits availability of different strains, scientists say. Many researchers have also called for a change to marijuana's legal classification. Currently, it is considered a Schedule I drug—which technically means the government thinks it has "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and methamphetamine.

Marijuana obviously has many potential and promising medical uses, for example to treat nausea, seizures, pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments.