A key House committee has blocked amendments to legalize marijuana and carry out a federal study into “the prevalence of fentanyl-tainted” cannabis from receiving floor votes. The proposals were both filed by Republican lawmakers who sought to attach them to a broader bill to ramp up criminalization of the opioid that also contains provisions to generally streamline research into Schedule I drugs.
Ahead of Monday’s House Rules Committee hearing on the Halt All Lethal Trafficking of (HALT) Fentanyl Act, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) proposed an amendment seeking to federally deschedule marijuana.
A separate proposal from Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) would have required the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to carry out a study into cannabis tainted with fentanyl—an issue that many advocates say has received outsized media attention following a number of law enforcement claims that later turned out to be dubious following testing.
Neither amendment was made in order by the committee, meaning they will not receive floor consideration. The panel also rejected a proposed amendment from Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) to prohibit federal funds from going to public or private entities that operate safe drug consumption facilities.
In the end, the Rules Committee only advanced three of 88 proposed amendments to the broader fentanyl bill, so it appears that GOP leadership was generally reluctant to further revise the legislation, which cleared the Energy & Commerce Committee in March and is expected to be on the House floor later this week.
The bill lays out penalties for fentanyl-related offenses and updated requirements for researchers interested in studying any Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Advocates who oppose the war on drugs are opposed to the legislation given that its main thrust is permanently placing fentanyl and its analogues in the most strict schedule and enhancing penalties for activity related to the opioid substances.
However, other provisions of the HALT Fentanyl Act that aim to expedite registrations for studies into Schedule I drugs and allow for limited manufacturing by researchers could address some concerns surrounding how the strict classification of marijuana, psychedelics and other substances has impeded science.
Some of the research provisions of the bill are similar to those contained in a marijuana-focused measure that President Joe Biden signed into law last year, giving the U.S. attorney general 60 days to either approve a given application or request supplemental information from a prospective research applicant. It also creates a more efficient pathway for researchers who request larger quantities of cannabis.
The White House issued a statement of administration policy on Monday expressing support for the legislation, calling on “Congress to pass all of these critical measures to improve public safety and save lives.”
Under the bill, a research applicant who is actively registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to study Schedule I and II drugs would need to have their request assessed within 30 days of sending a notice to the Justice Department.
A non-registered applicant would have to have their submission considered within 45 days of sending the notice.
The measure also states that research that’s being conducted or funded by federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would qualify for expedited processing.
Further, the bill says that duplicative registrations would no longer be required for all researchers involved in an approved study of a Schedule I substance if they’re all part of the same research institution.
The legislation goes on to say that “a person who is registered to perform research on a controlled substance may perform manufacturing activities with small quantities of that substance…without being required to obtain a manufacturing registration, if such activities are performed for the purpose of the research and if the activities and the quantities of the substance involved in those activities.”
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The HALT Fentanyl Act was introduced last Congress as well, but it did not advance at the committee level.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) posted a request for information (RFI) last year, seeking input on barriers to cannabis research specifically to help “strengthen the scientific evidence” of the plant’s therapeutic potential.
This month, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) separately started soliciting proposals for a series of research initiatives meant to explore how psychedelics could be used to treat drug addiction, with plans to provide $1.5 million in funding to support relevant studies.
On the Senate side last month, Republicans blocked a procedural vote to advance a bill to the floor that would promote research into the therapeutic effects of marijuana for military veterans with certain conditions.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.