As it currently stands, the federal government is prohibited from spending money on "any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance" classified as a Schedule I substance, the Controlled Substances Act's highest level of restriction. That means any publicly funded research institution that tries to explore the benefits of those substances runs the risk of losing its funding because positive research could be seen as promoting legalization.
That would change under Ocasio-Cortez's new legislation, which would allow research institutions to spend federal funds on drug research without repercussion.
"Academics and scientists report that provisions like this create [stigma] and insurmountable logistical hurdles to researching Schedule I drugs," a summary of Ocasio-Cortez's amendment reads.
The policy blocking research of Schedule I substances has been part of the US Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education funding bill for over 20 years. Advocates have long argued that this has been used by the federal government as a means of preventing the conversation around drug policy reform from moving forward.
"This language has served as a gag rule on government employees discussing the benefits of legalization," Michael Collins—director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance—told Forbes.
Ocasio-Cortez isn't the only Member of Congress working on this issue either. Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) has also filed an amendment that would prevent the Department of Education from trying to "deny or limit any funding or assistance" to academic institutions studying cannabis if they reside in a state where the substance has been legalized.
Both Ocasio-Cortez and Correa's amendments will begin their journey through Congress this week when they go to be voted on by the House Rules Committee. If all goes well they could be voted on by the full House come the end of the week.