Red tape costs lives, according to Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (R), who is calling on Congress to loosen regulations that are tying up marijuana research in America.

"Under current law, those who want to complete research on the benefits of medical marijuana must engage in a complex application process and interact with several federal agencies," he said through a spokesman last Friday. "The longer researchers have to wait, the longer patients have to suffer."

He added that patients are not only suffering but dying because regulations are obstructing the approval of much-needed medications like cannabis.

"Currently, the [Food and Drug Administration] estimates that a drug takes a minimum of seven years to move from initial studies to FDA approval," Hatch told the Deseret News last week. "The regulatory hoops researchers have to jump through significantly delay the production of potentially life-changing medications that Americans need."

That's why he introduced The Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act to Congress last September, a bill designed to spur cannabis studies by loosening the regulatory restraints that have put a chokehold on marijuana research. 

"The MEDS Act would encourage this research through reduced regulatory interference, and it would expand sources of research-grade marijuana with the assurance of a quality-controlled product," Hatch said Friday. "My proposal would also allow for the commercial production of drugs developed from marijuana once they have been approved by the FDA."

Approving the MEDS Act would be a big step toward sensible drug policy. Although 30 states currently allow medical marijuana, all forms and uses of cannabis remain prohibited by the federal government, which still defines cannabis as a drug that has no medical benefits and is as dangerous as heroin. The MEDS Act wouldn't force the DEA or the FDA to recognize marijuana as medicine, but it would encourage research that could lead to larger reforms in American drug policy.

Right now, most physicians have to rely on anecdotal evidence while recommending marijuana because there simply isn't sufficient research on the health benefits and potential risks of cannabis. Loosening federal regulations would likely open a floodgate of studies that could lead not only to recognizing the medicinal value of cannabis but repealing the federal prohibition of recreational marijuana as well.

But first, it has to be passed through Congress, where it has received bipartisan support from Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and others. Even Attorney General Jeff Sessions supports the bill despite his claim that marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin. A position that is depressingly ironic given that medical marijuana could be used as an alternative to the medications that lead people to heroin addiction, and cannabis could also wean people off their dependence on heroin as well as other opioids.

And since the opioid epidemic claimed the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans in 2016 alone, the United States simply can't wait another 7 years for cannabis research to finally move forward.