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With cannabis legalization moving forward in more states and potentially the federal government, scientific researchers have long wanted to use retail-level cannabis in their studies — the same types of cannabis that people consume. The government-grown and supervised samples that have been available are notorious for being poor quality, genetically closer to hemp than to cannabis, and not at all representative of what consumers are using.

Now legislation is moving forward in both the House and the Senate to promote better cannabis research by allowing scientists to access the real thing. A cannabis-focused amendment to the current bipartisan Transportation bill in the Senate promoting the study of impaired driving — sponsored by Senator John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) — would allow scientists to bring cannabis into this research using commonly-available strains. The House has already approved its version of the bill with nearly identical provisions.

The single source for government-grown cannabis for over half a century has been the University of Mississippi. It has frequently been challenged as being inadequate for clinical studies, as it does not reflect what is being used in the actual marketplace. With the new amendment, a national clearinghouse would be established to “collect and distribute samples and strains of marijuana for scientific research that includes marijuana and products containing marijuana lawfully available to patients or consumers in a State on a retail basis.”

This means DEA-licensed researchers across the country could access many different types of cannabis, even if they are based in non-legal states. Some of these organizations are under review to grow their own samples as well, including Biopharmaceutical Research Company in California, Groff NA Hemplex LLC in Pennsylvania, and Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona.

As Senator Hickenlooper stated in his press release, “Colorado led the way on marijuana legislation. The federal government needs to catch up by lifting outdated restrictions on the scientific study of cannabis so we can prevent driving while high.”

What is hoped for is that a national standard is developed that can be used to judge whether or not a driver is impaired. States where cannabis is legal would be required to consider educational outreach to residents to discourage driving while high. Past studies have found that the amount of THC in a person’s system is not necessarily an accurate predictor of impairment, so a uniform national standard is overdue.