The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a large-scale transportation bill that includes a provision that would allow researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries in order to effectively study impaired driving.
After clearing committee last month, the chamber passed the legislation in a 221-201 vote. A Senate committee also recently advanced its version of the transportation proposal that contains substantively identical language around cannabis.
Under the House-passed measure, a federal report would need to be issued with recommendations on establishing a national clearinghouse with samples of different types of marijuana that scientists from non-legal states could obtain for studies.
Specifically, it mandates that the Transportation Secretary would need to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Justice Department to develop a public report within two years of the bill’s enactment that includes recommendations on allowing scientists to access retail-level marijuana to study impaired driving.
The report should also explore “establishing a national clearinghouse to collect and distribute samples and strains of marijuana for scientific research,” the text of the proposal states, and that would include cannabis from state-legal markets.
Finally, the measure states that the report, which would be due two years after the bill’s enactment, should analyze “statutory and regulatory barriers to the conduct of scientific research and the establishment of a national clearinghouse for purposes of facilitating research on marijuana-impaired driving.”
An earlier version of the measure cleared the House last Congress with identical marijuana provisions but did not advance in the GOP-controlled Senate.
The transportation legislation also contains a separate section that would require legal marijuana states—and only those states—to consider methods of educating people about and discouraging impaired driving from cannabis. Advocates take issue with that language simply because it targets legalized jurisdictions while ignoring the fact that marijuana-impaired driving takes place regardless of its legal status.
While the cannabis-related provisions may seem somewhat outside the scope of the large-scale transportation legislation, the research elements could help resolve an ongoing access issue for researchers interested in studying marijuana while the substance is strictly controlled under federal statute.
But since the bill’s initial introduction last year, some steps have been taken to resolve that issue. Most notably, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently notified several companies that it is moving toward approving their applications to become federally authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.
That marks a significant development—and one of the first cannabis-related moves to come out of the Biden administration. There is currently a monopoly on federal cannabis cultivation, with the University of Mississippi having operated the only approved facility for the past half-century.
But that move from DEA would still not free up researchers to access marijuana products from state-legal retailers in the way the transportation bill would allow if it is enacted.
The other cannabis provision that was included in the base transportation bill has not been well-received by reform advocates.
Under the legislation, sponsored by House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), a section of current law requiring that states establish highway safety programs would be amended to add a section stipulating that states “which have legalized medicinal or recreational marijuana shall consider programs in addition to the programs…to educate drivers on the risks associated with marijuana-impaired driving and to reduce injuries and deaths resulting from individuals driving motor vehicles while impaired by marijuana.”
While advocates are supportive of measures to reduce impaired driving, some have raised issues with the implication that legalizing cannabis increases the risk of people driving while under the influence. Research isn’t settled on that subject.
A federally funded study recently promoted by the National Institute of Justice also found that the amount of THC in a person’s system after consuming marijuana is not an accurate predictor of impairment.
The House also adopted a floor amendment to the transportation bill on Wednesday to create a competitive grant program for states and Indian tribes to “educate the public on the dangers of drug-impaired driving.”