Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, February 8, 2016

Oregon Health Authority report calls for "the creation of an independent, free‐standing Oregon Institute for Cannabis"

I was intrigued and pleased to see this notable new press story out of Oregon reporting on this notable new public health task force report titled "Researching the medical and public health properties of cannabis."  Here are the basics via the press coverage:

Oregon should fund an independent marijuana institute to support and conduct world-class research into the drug's medical and public health benefits, says a task force that includes state officials, scientists and leading physicians.

Tax dollars generated through recreational marijuana sales would supplement private funding to underwrite the quasi-public Oregon Institute for Cannabis Research. The center would hire research scientists, as well as staff to help academic researchers navigate the complexities of federally sanctioned cannabis research.

The recommendation, included in a report submitted Monday to the Legislature by the task force, calls for Oregon to break new ground by providing a sustained source of state money to support marijuana research. Among the proposals: the institute itself would grow and handle marijuana for research purposes. "This institute will position Oregon as a leader in cannabis research and serve as an international hub for what will soon be a rapidly accelerating scientific field," states the report, prepared by the Oregon Health Authority. "No other single initiative could do as much to strengthen the Oregon cannabis industry and to support the needs of Oregon medical marijuana patients."

The proposal represents the latest effort by states to fill gaps in marijuana research created by the federal prohibition of the drug. The government allows research on cannabis, but the approval process is especially complicated and involves marijuana produced at a government-run facility based at the University of Mississippi. The recommendation came out of a law passed last year by the Legislature that called for the creation of a governor-appointed task force to study ways to support a medical marijuana industry geared toward patients. The report doesn't include estimates for what it would cost to fund the center, but makes clear that financial support from the state would be essential. Other states have set aside money for research, but not on an ongoing basis.

Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, the lawmaker behind the provision that created the task force, said paying for the institute with revenue from the state's marijuana tax is a politically viable idea, but said it isn't likely to gain traction during the Legislature's 35-day session, which began last week. Under current law, marijuana tax revenue goes to the common school fund, mental health, alcoholism and drug services, the Oregon State Police, local and the health authority. "One thing I heard consistently is that people want to understand better the health effects and the health and safety issues -- the potential effects of pesticides and also the potential for medical uses of cannabis," he said. "I think there is broad support for those pieces."...

Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, also have plans for research. Colorado lawmakers in 2014 approved a one-time $9 million expenditure for marijuana-related studies, including three that will require federal approval, said Ken Gershman, medical marijuana research grant program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Six involve "observational studies" of people already consuming marijuana. University researchers in Colorado plan to examine whether young adults and adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease benefit from marijuana, and the effect of cannabidiol, a component of the marijuana plant known as CBD, on Parkinson's-related tremors. Other studies will examine the effect of high-CBD oil extracts on epilepsy, as well as the drug's impact on sleep and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Washington, which offers a marijuana research license, carved out a percentage of its marijuana tax revenue for cannabis research. The law calls for some of that work to look at ways of measuring marijuana intoxication and impairment.

California was the first state to fund research into marijuana's medicinal benefits. In 2000, the state set aside $10 million to fund the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego. The center oversaw multiple research projects, most of them looking at marijuana's effect on neuropathic pain. Like Colorado, California's funding was a one-time expenditure.

Dr. J.H. Atkinson, a co-director of the center and a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said the research was "relatively small in scope and duration" but offered a potential model for other states. He said the studies showed a promising connection between cannabis and pain relief. "Without too much chest thumping," he said, "it was the most comprehensive body of research on the potential (of cannabis) ever conducted in this country."...

Research into marijuana is complicated by the drug's longtime status as a Schedule 1 drug. That category of drugs, which includes heroin, is defined as substances that have a "high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use." Federal research proposals involving involving Schedule 1 drugs must undergo review by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and must use cannabis produced by the University of Mississippi, which holds the lone government contract to grow pot for research purposes. The agency in 2014 said it planned to increase production of marijuana to support more research....

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said "ample research" and "an extensive history of human use" provide more than enough evidence to contradict marijuana's status under federal law as a drug that lacks medical benefit. Armentano said he welcomes more research from states like Oregon but is skeptical it will make a difference in the debate about marijuana's Schedule 1 status. "Unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy," he said. "If it did, the United States would already have a very different policy in place."

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2016/02/oregon-health-authority-report-calls-for-the-creation-of-an-independent-freestanding-oregon-institut.html

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