(Senate - September 13, 2017)

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[Pages S5483-S5484]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


      By Mr. HATCH (for himself, Mr. Schatz, Mr. Gardner, Mr. Coons, 
        and Mr. Tillis):
  S. 1803. A bill to improve medical research on marijuana; to the 
Committee on the Judiciary.
  Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, today, I am introducing a proposal that 
could substantially improve America's healthcare. Despite what some of 
my colleagues believe, it does not take a sweeping overhaul of 
ObamaCare to do this. Sometimes, even small changes can have a huge 
impact on people's lives.
  That is why, throughout my four decades of public service, I have 
worked to shine a light on the need for innovative treatments to help 
those who suffer from debilitating illness and rare diseases. In that 
same spirit, I am joining Senator Schatz today to introduce the 
Marijuana Effective Drug Studies Act, or MEDS Act, which has the 
potential to benefit millions of Americans who are suffering from a 
wide range of conditions, including cancer, severe epilepsy, post-
traumatic stress disorder, residual effects after a stroke, or chronic 
  It is high time to address research into medical marijuana. Our 
country has experimented with a variety of State solutions without 
properly delving into the weeds on the effectiveness, safety, dosing, 
administration, and quality of medical marijuana.
  Now, all puns aside, it will surprise no one that I am strongly 
against the use of recreational marijuana. I worry, however, that in 
our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the 
medicinal benefits of natural substances, like cannabis. While I 
certainly do not support the use of marijuana for recreational 
purposes, the evidence shows that cannabis possesses medicinal 
properties that can truly change people's lives for the better, and I 
believe we would be remiss if we threw out the baby with the bath 
  In many cases, the compounds found in cannabis are the only hope for 
Americans who suffer from chronic medical conditions, such as severe 
epilepsy. Take the difficult case of a young man from Eagle Mountain, 
UT, who suffers from a number of different epileptic disorders and 
developmental ailments. My friend regularly takes 17 pills on a daily 
basis. Yet he continues to have seizures regularly. The current 
treatment for his condition, with no guarantee of success, would be 
invasive brain surgery.
  This poor family is seeking help, yearning for a way for their child 
to live a safe and healthy life. Compounds found in marijuana could 
significantly mitigate the severity of my friend's seizures and even 
help him lead a normal life, but current regulations prevent the 
development of any such treatment from going forward. So this young man 
is left to suffer. Luckily,

[[Page S5484]]

the MEDS Act changes that. It updates the law for the 21st century, 
allowing for groundbreaking research on the potentially lifesaving 
benefits of medical marijuana.
  Compounds found in marijuana have shown promise for treating a wide 
range of diseases and disorders, but because of bureaucratic redtape 
and fear, there is a lack of sufficient evidence about the safety and 
efficacy of these compounds. As a result, millions of Americans are 
using marijuana for medicinal purposes without there being the rigorous 
scientific evidence that we require all medications to have before we 
allow them to be prescribed in this country. There are currently no 
Federal quality control measures for marijuana grown for medicinal 
purposes, nor is there any quality control for the marijuana-based 
medications that patients eventually use.
  Prescribers do not have guidance on appropriate doses, routes of 
administration, or even the safety of this medication for populations 
such as children or the elderly. This lack of oversight creates a 
dangerous environment that puts American lives at risk. As we continue 
to encourage the development of new therapies for those with severe 
medical problems, we must be unrelenting in our insistence on 
scientific rigor. Using only anecdotal information poses a significant 
public health risk.
  We lack the science to support the use of medical marijuana products 
like CBD oils, not because researchers are unwilling to do the work but 
because of bureaucratic redtape and overregulation. Under current law, 
those who want to complete research on the benefits of medical 
marijuana must engage in a complex application process and interact 
with several Federal agencies. These regulatory acrobatics can take 
researchers over a year, if not more, to complete, and the longer 
researchers have to wait, the longer patients have to suffer.
  Currently, the FDA estimates that a drug takes a minimum of 7 years 
to move from initial studies to FDA approval. The regulatory hoops that 
researchers have to jump through significantly delay the production of 
potentially life-changing medications that Americans need.
  To develop more information about marijuana's therapeutic potential, 
we need robust basic and clinical research. The MEDS Act would 
encourage this research through reduced regulatory interference, and it 
would expand sources of research-grade marijuana with the assurance of 
a quality-controlled product. My proposal would also allow for the 
commercial production of drugs developed from marijuana once they have 
been approved by the FDA.
  I am pleased with the legislation that Senator Schatz and I have been 
able to craft surrounding CBO oil and medical research. We are 
committed to seeing that this bill becomes law.
  Before I yield the floor, I would like to take a moment to share my 
perspective on the broader discussion of medical marijuana and its 
implications in my home State of Utah. In Utah and across the Nation, 
opioid abuse continues to ravage good, hard-working families who have 
fallen captive to the tyranny of addiction. While some people are using 
these prescription drugs appropriately, others are abusing them at 
alarming rates. Because Utahns have watched their family members, 
friends, and neighbors grapple with this epidemic, many are seeking 
nonnarcotic alternatives that can help with pain. Medical marijuana is 
just one such alternative, and after careful, deliberative thought, I 
have concluded that it is an alternative worth pursuing.
  Now let me be clear. My support for medical marijuana research does 
not mean that I believe that marijuana is a harmless substance. Much to 
the contrary, I continue to believe that marijuana can lead to broader 
drug abuse, and I am deeply concerned by the cottage industries that 
are springing up in States in which marijuana has been legalized both 
for medical and recreational use.
  So let me be clear. I am still very much opposed to the legalization 
of recreational marijuana, but I strongly support research into the 
medicinal benefits of marijuana, and I remain committed to helping 
patients find the help they need, whether they suffer from cancer, 
severe seizures, or any other chronic disorder.
  In crafting a new regulatory framework to harvest the medicinal 
benefits of marijuana while also mitigating its harmful effects, we 
must ensure that any marijuana-derived medications are prescribed by 
qualified physicians or other healthcare providers. Also, if we make 
medical marijuana accessible to those who really need it, we should not 
increase access to recreational marijuana, nor should we do anything to 
promote the industry that has developed around marijuana dispensaries.
  The recreational marijuana industry has its fair share of budding 
entrepreneurs, but these men and women are in no way qualified to issue 
prescriptions or give any medical advice whatsoever to people who are 
suffering from chronic conditions. Only experienced medical 
professionals who have undergone years of education and formal training 
are qualified to consult patients who are seeking a marijuana-derived 
treatment. Only licensed professionals know how to accurately diagnose 
illnesses and use approved medical treatments to safely treat disease.
  Our purpose in advancing medical marijuana research should be to help 
doctors help patients, not to help dispensaries turn a profit. To that 
end, I also believe that treatment options should focus on 
noncombustive forms of marijuana. Our ability to isolate helpful 
compounds is advanced enough to make this plan a reality.
  I understand that medical marijuana is a difficult issue. I 
understand that it is not an issue without controversy, but we cannot 
shrink from our duties simply because they require us to make hard 
choices. At present, we have a duty to help the thousands of Americans 
who are suffering from debilitating seizures and chronic pain, who 
desperately want help but do not know where to find it. Passing the 
MEDS Act is the first step in giving these men and women the reprieve 
they need.
  I hope my colleagues will not shy away from making the hard choices 
that will improve people's lives. The bill Senator Schatz and I 
introduce today represents what our two parties can accomplish when we 
work together in good faith. I hope my colleagues will join us in 
supporting this commonsense proposal.