The federal government has an unusual relationship with marijuana. While Congress continues to keep cannabis illegal in the United States, it also continues to protect states that have legalized the drug and ensure that those laws are protected. And now the Senate is taking it a step farther by asking federal agencies to ensure quality standards on marijuana in legal states.
Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee asked federal agencies to create a national testing program for marijuana. In the past, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) tested cannabis products seized by law enforcement to gain insight into the effects of the drug. The Senate is now asking them to not only test seized products, but to also go to states with legal marijuana and test cannabis that is sold in dispensaries as well.
"The Committee believes that such research [on law-enforcement-seized cannabis], along with analysis of marijuana and marijuana-derived products sold commercially in dispensaries or online, is essential for informing substance abuse prevention efforts, public health policy, and law enforcement tactics across the Federal Government," the committee wrote in their report.
It's unclear how exactly the NIDA would actually test marijuana grown in dispensaries. Would NIDA officials have to physically go to dispensaries and purchase marijuana, which would technically be illegal under federal law? Or would they rely on DEA seized samples from legal dispensaries?
In addition to testing legally sold marijuana, the Appropriations Committee also expressed concern about the restrictions on the federal government researching cannabis. They directed the NIDA to assemble a report about obstacles preventing federal agencies from researching the drug.
"The Committee is concerned that restrictions associated with Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act effectively limit the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain schedule 1 drugs, especially marijuana or its component chemicals and certain synthetic drugs," the report says. "At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs, we need to review lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research. The Committee directs NIDA to provide an update...on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule 1 substances."
The Senate's recommendations to federal agencies would seem to completely contradict the Trump administration's policies on the issue. President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have repeatedly stated that marijuana should be illegal and they intend for that to remain the case. And yet here's the Senate asking federal agencies to purchase marijuana and research cannabis despite federal laws against doing so.
But considering popular opinion supports marijuana legalization, it's likely that the Senate will win out in this case.