Ending the U.S. government’s war on medical marijuana research

Of all the controlled substances that the federal government regulates, cannabis is treated in unique ways that impede research. Specifically, the U.S. government has held back the medical community’s ability to conduct the type of research that the scientific community considers the experimental gold standard in guiding medical practice. Thus, the use of cannabis for medical treatment is happening in states based largely on anecdotal or limited science. In many cases, patients and doctors operate according to a learn-as-you-go approach—a situation that is inexcusably the fault of federal policies failing to keep pace with changing societal views and state-level legal landscapes.

In “Ending the U.S. government’s war on medical marijuana research,” authors John Hudak and Grace Wallack argue that it is time for the federal government to recognize the serious public policy risks born from limited medical, public health, and pharmaceutical research into cannabis and its use. As medical marijuana becomes increasingly accessible in state-regulated, legal markets, and as others self-medicate in jurisdictions that do not allow the medical use of cannabis, it is increasingly important that the scientific community conduct research on this substance. However, statutory, regulatory, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers have paralyzed science and threatened the integrity of research freedom in this area.

Hudak and Wallack explore the specific federal government policies that limit medical marijuana research and detail the consequences of those policies for the medical community and for public policy. They also examine some of the existing proposals that seek to ameliorate these challenges, concluding that some are meaningful and would make substantive changes that advance medical research, while others are narrow-sighted, misunderstood, and fail to provide the type of large-scale change necessary to achieve reformers’ desired goals. Analyzing the efficacy of one often-proposed solution, the rescheduling of marijuana from a Schedule I narcotic, Hudak and Wallack argue that this specific policy proposal is limited in its ability to advance constructive medical research. 

Ultimately, the authors recommend a more comprehensive set of policy reforms that will liberate the medical community in its pursuit of research into marijuana.