Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, delivered the following opening remarks during a Judiciary Committee markup of H.R. 5634, the Medical Cannabis Research Act:
“Mr. Chairman, although H.R. 5634, the ‘Medical Cannabis Research Act,’ is intended to be a modest, but helpful measure to address certain restrictions on the manufacture of marijuana for research purposes, I must oppose it because it would unfortunately and unjustly expand the collateral consequences of criminal convictions.
“We know that marijuana can be effective at alleviating pain, suppressing nausea, and treating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Although continued and expanded research is necessary to further examine the potential benefits of marijuana, there are legal and practical limitations on the ability of doctors, scientists, and academics to conduct this research.
“Largely because marijuana is inappropriately categorized as a Schedule I drug under federal law, there is an onerous and cumbersome process for obtaining federal approval to conduct research.
“Currently, there is only one entity that is registered and approved by the DEA under the terms of the Controlled Substances Act to manufacture, or grow, marijuana for research purposes. Researchers indicate that, unfortunately, the supply of cannabis made available by the University of Mississippi is frequently of low quality and moldy, which can cause illness.
“In recent years, many states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and a few others have legalized it for recreational use. There have also been discussions within the Executive Branch about taking steps to approve more registrants to manufacture marijuana. However, the University of Mississippi remains the sole approved manufacturer of marijuana for research.
“To address this concern, H.R. 5634 would require that there be at least three federally-approved manufacturers of marijuana for research purposes. This is not a vast expansion, but it would help address the limitations on the availability and quality of marijuana for research.
“However, I am disappointed that the bill includes a requirement that each person involved in a manufacturer’s operations undergo a background check to confirm that they have no felony or drug-related misdemeanor convictions.
“As this Committee seeks to engage in criminal justice reform – and particularly on the day when we consider the Second Chance Act – we should not include such a requirement that would expand the collateral consequences of criminal convictions. For decades, drug laws have been disproportionately enforced against minorities. This is particularly true with respect to misdemeanor drug convictions.
“Now, when we are allowing a limited number of people to financially benefit from the legal growing of marijuana, we should not compound this injustice by preventing the very people who have been harmed from participating.
“The bill includes a broad restriction based on any felony committed at any time and also includes mere misdemeanor drug offenses, committed at any time. These restrictions are sweeping, unwarranted, and unjust.
“Also, the bill would clarify that the doctors and staff of the Veterans Administration are not prohibited from sharing information about federally-approved marijuana clinical trials with patients.
“If there are trials that may help our veterans address their needs with regards to pain or PTSD, VA officials should not be prevented from sharing this information, and I would endorse such a provision in a bill that I could otherwise support.
“Even if the Committee adopts this bill today, there is more we must do to address the legal status of marijuana in this country. Continuing to arrest and incarcerate through enforcement of outdated marijuana laws, often in a racially disproportionate manner, is a disgrace.
“One of the unfortunate aspects of such enforcement is that those convicted face an array of collateral consequences, including difficulty obtaining employment. Therefore, although I would like to support a measure that would help provide more marijuana for research purposes, I cannot support this bill because of the overbroad restrictions regarding convictions. If this is not addressed, I will vote against this bill today.
“I yield back the balance of my time.”