A bipartisan group of representatives on Capitol Hill has appealed to the House to ensure that universities conducting studies on cannabis do not get penalized under federal law.

Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse, along with 25 co-signers, wrote in a letter to the chairwoman and a ranking member of a House subcommittee that “there are a multitude of higher education institutions conducting a range of cannabis-related research, including many in our districts, who prefer for future developments to occur through an accredited educational setting.”

The authors of the letter have requested that the House Appropriations subcommittee writes certain provisions into the fiscal year 2020 Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations legislation. These would stipulate that the US Department of Education cannot withhold federal funds from universities that research marijuana.

Proponents of the amendment have suggested that the FY2020 Labor-HHS appropriations bill should include the following language:

“None of the funds provided by this Act or provided by previous Appropriations Acts to the Department of Education shall be withheld from an institute of higher education solely because that institute is conducting or is preparing to conduct research on marijuana as defined in 21 U.S.C. § 802 (16).”

The letter explains that withdrawal of funds has posed “an undue hurdle for many academic institutions.”

More research is needed

“Formal research is especially important as more states legalize medical marijuana,” the lawmakers wrote. “We need medical professionals who are equipped with the knowledge to discuss competently issues surrounding cannabis and health. Evidence-based research regarding cannabis ought to be encouraged in academic settings, not discouraged.”

U.S. educational institutions are obliged to comply with the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1989, which commits all federally-funded universities to adopting drug-prevention programs. Under the current law, students and employees are banned from possessing, using and distributing illicit substances on university property or as part of their activities.

Neguse’s letter notes that “there has been no statement from the Department of Education suggesting that enforcement of the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act has been, or will be, relaxed – even in jurisdictions that otherwise regulate cannabis or at institutions on these jurisdictions that wish to research it.”

Justin Strekal, the political director for NORML, said that “the roots of marijuana’s national criminalization run deep throughout the federal code and protecting American universities’ ability to research and understand the dynamic properties of cannabis is a commonsense next step for the Appropriations Committee to take.”

He added that the letter “is a great move for Rep. Neguse given his background in higher education and we look forward to what other new ideas he will bring to Congress.”

Other signatories of the letter include Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu (CA), Ed Perlmutter (CO), Ro Khanna (CA), Barbara Lee (CA), Dina Titus (NV), Earl Blumenauer (OR), Tulsi Gabbard (HI), Hakeem Jeffries (NY) and Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz (FL), Don Young (AK), and Kelly Armstrong (ND).

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